First responders rally in Lansing over retiree healthcare benefits

Posted at 5:41 PM, Nov 29, 2017

LANSING, Mich. -- First responders from across Michigan rallied in Lansing Wednesday afternoon. They're concerned about potential legislation tied to retirement benefits and how they're managed.

Police and fire personnel arrived by the busload to the steps of the state capitol.

“This is life changing,” said David Robb, a lieutenant with the Muskegon Fire Department. "This affects retirees that are obviously currently retired and also affects guys coming into the fire service and police."

First responders are concerned that deep cuts would be made to departments if people from outside their municipalities are given power to make that decision.

"The question that really comes in is local control," said Mark Docherty with the Michigan Professional Firefighters Union. "Some people at the state level feel like they need to come in and impose changes that we believe the communities can do themselves."

"The one-size-fits-all model does not cover every city," Docherty added. "Every city handles its issues differently."

This isn't the first time the legislature tried tackling the issue. The governor formed a task force last year and found several cities are hundreds of millions of dollars in debt due in large part to retiree healthcare and pension costs, according to House Republicans. That's despite the state shelling out millions of dollars to cities through a process called revenue sharing.

"We're not going to do anything that's an overreach," said State Representative James Lower of Cedar Lake. He said talks are ongoing as to what the changes might look like.

House Republicans say the point of contention is whether a panel of experts would be allowed to make decisions on municipal healthcare benefits or to keep the issue between local unions and city administrations.

"There's a lot of plans across the state that are massively underfunded," Lower said, "and those very employees are at risk of losing the benefits they've worked so hard for."​

"We want to hear that before a bill sits down or is dropped out of a committee that that bill has sufficient time to be vetted by these groups of people," said Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller. He added that the group that gathered at the capitol wanted "to have hearings that we are able to go speak to or that we are able to read the bill and then speak those things inside those hearings."