by Richard Warbrouck
I want to acknowledge and thank our members who over the past year have sent in personal legislative contributions. This past month we received several generous contributions in the $500, $300, $250, and $150 range as well as many in the $100, $50 and lower amounts. These individual donations are in addition to the annual dues. This is testimony to how strongly our members feel about protecting the pension system that some of us worked so hard to get.
- These contributors apparently realize the need to be involved politically remembering that’s how we got our retirement system and that’s how we are going to keep our retirement system.
- I like to think the donations are an endorsement of our organization, how it’s administered and our dedication to represent you in all areas of your retirement and past employment in the fire service.
Again, we thank you!
As you well know we were very involved in the LEOFF I merger study during the interim after the 2016 legislative session. We submitted letters, emails and testified at every Select Committee hearing. The committee members knew who we were and who we represented. We didn’t need little round decals on our chest, back or forehead. We requested round table discussions to allow interested groups to ask questions, get answers and make comments. We thank Senator Steve Conway, the Chair of the Select Committee on Pension Policy (SCPP) who arranged for a few meetings in the round table format. Unfortunately Senator Conway was the only elected official, member of the SCPP Committee or department head to attend these meetings. The SCPP Committee issued a composite report from consultants, organizations and state agencies with no recommendations for or against a merger.
For whatever reason our comments to the SCPP Committee, written communications and meetings with key legislators or because a merger can be discussed in budget negotiations, there was no bill introduced to merge the LEOFF I Retirement System. As of this date the Senate Ways and Means Committee has submitted their budget. The budget has been passed by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration. There is no proviso in the Senate budget for a LEOFF I merger but there are some other serious retirement issues:
- Redirects the State’s 20% contribution to the LEOFF II Retirement System by transferring the 20% the state contributes to the LEOFF II employers for a total of 50%.
- Establishes a CAP or $2,000.00 on the amount a qualified city can receive for each firefighter from the sales tax on fire insurance premiums as provided in RCW 41.16 (the Prior Act).
- Reduces the request of 14.4 million to 7.45 million for construction of the new fire training academy.
- Shifts the funding for the Department of Retirement Systems form a surcharge on the employers to the pension fund.
The House Appropriations Committee released their omnibus budget:
- No LEOFF I merger
- Full funding of the LEOFF II Retirement System as adopted by the LEOFF II Boards. The state will continue to make a 20% contribution.
- No payment to the LEOFF II benefit improvement account.
As of this writing the House has not passed the committee’s budget.
Three operating budgets are submitted, one by the Governor, one by the House and one by the Senate. The Governor’s budget is more like a recommendation. The House and Senate budgets are most likely miles apart. They will have to get together in budget negotiations most likely in a special session to develop a budget that will eventually be passed by both the House and Senate. We are not out of the woods yet on a retirement system merger!
During the last two weeks Al O’Brien a retired Seattle police officer and former State Representative and a member of Jerry Taylor’s group the Retired Seattle Police Officers Association and I met with leadership including the Senate Majority leader Senator Schoesler and Speaker Frank Chopp, the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative Timm Ormsby, members of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways Committee. We gave each a written list of talking points against a merger. After talking with Speaker Frank Chopp and his request for more information on the IRS Exclusive Rule we prepared a 26 page packet indexed and highlighted and delivered the packets to the above listed legislators. The only other lobbyist we saw was from the Washington State Council of Firefighters. I don’t want to give you any false confidence; anything can happen in budget negotiations. They can discuss new proposals to generate new revenue or reduce expenses. Anything can be considered and agreed to.
Jerry Taylor, Ken Crowder and I had a meeting with Andy Wilson, President of the LEOFF I Coalition, Dave Peery, a retired Seattle firefighter and Secretary of the Coalition, Joe Dawson, President of Washington State Retired Deputy Sheriff and Police Officers Association to discuss hiring a part time lobbyist to assist us during the budget deliberations. Jerry, Ken and I wanted to hire Bill Hinkle, a contract lobbyist. Bill is a former Republican Representative, was in a House leadership position and served in the House for ten years. He is a former King county paramedic and his wife is a retired Seattle firefighter with twenty-five years of service. Bill knows the fire service, the legislature and the state pension systems. We figured the cost, spread between four or five groups, would be cheap insurance. This could make a difference in a merger being passed which would result in costly legal fees. After not hearing from Andy Wilson for two weeks I emailed him. I was disappointed when he called back and informed me that the Coalition was not interested in retaining Bill Hinkle. Joe Dawson later informed us that he was not interested in hiring former Representative Hinkle.
I am amazed by the reception we receive from legislators and staff when I am with Al O’Brien in Olympia. Appointments are not necessary. We get right in to see a legislator if he or she is in the office or we are advised to come back when the legislator is back in the office. I guess that’s considered professional courtesy to Al, a former legislator.
I have to ask, if these groups don’t want to spend their money on something as important as this, how do they spend their money? There is never any accounting by the Coalition. They just ask for more money without reporting how much they have. I really feel the retired members who are donating to the Coalition are being misled. When we formed the Coalition it was not intended to be a lobbying organization. It was only formed to raise funds for a US Supreme Court lawsuit. I will share with you my experiences and give my opinion next month. Be prepared to respond if called!
Follow us on Facebook