John Hill’s article in yesterday’s Providence Journal puts its emphasis on the shrinking of Providence’s police and fire personnel, as 120 out of 415 police officers and 178 out of 395 firefighters become eligible to retire at the end of their current contracts. One point that Hill doesn’t address, however, is that with every retirement, the city begins paying another person for not working.
Sure, that pay goes through the retirement system, and the theory is that the contributions to the pension fund each year of an employee’s career should be enough that no additional taxpayer money is required once he or she retires. But it’s long been obvious that the theory is wrong; some might even call it a deliberate lie on the part of politicians and union representatives.
When employees retire, their annual income goes down (usually), and (usually) the government has saved up and invested something so that the cost for that employee is at least reduced somewhat. Even if the bill is prepaid, though, paying for an employee and the retirement of the person who used to hold the same job is paying for the job twice.
If I’m correctly reading this report from the city, at the end of its 2014 fiscal year, Providence had 591 retired police officers and firefighters, plus 410 on disability pensions and 207 beneficiaries other than the former employees. That compared with 863 active employees in the pension system. In other words, even if we don’t count beneficiaries (like spouses and children), for every six working police officers or firefighters, the city is still paying another seven men and women for those jobs.
Another way to put that would be to say that, of all the individuals currently receiving financial compensation for their work as police officers and firefighters, the city is actively receiving services from just 46% of them. With large portions of active police and fire personnel nearing retirement, this approach to compensating employees doesn’t seem sustainable at all.