RSPOA & the LEOFF I Coalition

Editor’s Note:
This article is now a historical item. It was written in 2008 when the RSPOA was still on the Coalition board. It sort of demonstrates how the effectiveness of the Coalition began to fail.

by Jerry Taylor & John Nordlund

Eight years! It all started back in mid-2000 and officially began on October 26, 2000 at a meeting in Yakima. The outcome of that meeting was the formation of the LEOFF I Coalition. Things looked bright at that meeting and the first few meetings of the Coalition Executive Board. Items of concern were identified. Prominent legislators met with the board. There was talk of increases in benefits. The Pension Trust Fund was $1.1 billion in surplus. The state had entered a gain-sharing agreement with the Teachers and Anchorage had won a major lawsuit forcing the distribution of their surplus.

On January 27, 2001, the Coalition issued its promise to the members of LEOFF I. They said:

  • The LEOFF I COALITION is organized to insure the equitable distribution of LEOFF I Pension System surplus funds; and
  • The MISSION of the LEOFF I COALITION is to protect the integrity of the LEOFF I Law and LEOFF I Retirement System Trust Fund.

That original Coalition was formed of six groups. The Retired Seattle Police Officers Association was, and is, the largest group in the lot. Turmoil soon erupted with the Coalition and two groups, WSCFF and WACOPS left. Local 27 Firefighters joined. Subsequently the RFFOW left. Most, but not all, of the member groups provided seed funding in the amount of $1000 to the Coalition.

Also, on January 27, 2001, the Coalition embarked on their first fund raising effort. They issued a letter asking for $100 donations. The RSPOA even provided the Coalition with its mailing list to aid the solicitation. It worked well. They raised about $150,000 in that first effort. Most of it came from RSPOA members.

Quickly, the bright light faded as the legislature began its session and quickly proposed the first attempt to raid the surplus. That was HB 1072. It first surfaced at the December 13, 2000 Joint Committee on Pension Policy meeting and was introduced as soon as the legislature convened. It would have taken some of our pension funds and created a medical benefits risk pool to pay the LEOFF 1 employers’ costs. Political action by LEOFF 1 members, organizations and some
organizational efforts by the Coalition stopped that bill.

Then in late February the Legislature introduced SB 6166. Not disguised as a relief for LEOFF 1 employers, it was an outright raid on the Pension Trust.

Governor Locke, speaking about this bill, said, “By using the surplus assets in Plan 1 of the Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters Retirement System (LEOFF Plan 1) to support state programs, this budget proposal helps us all avoid making onerous cuts to social service and health care programs that are important to our children and the elderly.”

Thankfully, this bill was killed. It was killed by the political action of LEOFF 1 members and the last minute filing of a law suit supported by the Coalition. The issue died and the potential for a large legal settlement diminished in an economic downturn. The lawyers lost interest and the Coalition went dormant. The Coalition board continued to meet but severely limited communications with members. So far the Coalition has not taken any action to move forward with its stated goal of seeking a distribution of the surplus. In fact, it appears as the Coalition has walked away from that goal altogether. From a legislative perspective it now seems that the Coalition is content to simply oppose almost any bill dealing with LEOFF 1.

Over the intervening six years the Coalition offered some verbal support for the survivor benefit and joined with other organizations (including RSPOA) in supporting a precedent setting lawsuit dealing with medical benefits. Additionally, the Coalition has recently provided seed funding for a lawsuit in Moses Lake dealing with the same issue. We feel it has yet to develop a strong lobbying arm. The Coalition has lost contact with many LEOFF 1 members.

Over the years the Coalition has spent about $190,000 and has about $148,000 in the treasury. It is currently spending at the rate of $30,000 a year.

Over the past year and a half the RSPOA has been pushing the Coalition to keep its promise and to do a better job of identifying and organizing all LEOFF 1 members and beneficiaries. We think that may well be decisive in protecting our pension benefits and maybe even getting some taste of the surplus which now stands at almost $2 billion. (The February 2008 CTF balance for LEOFF 1 was $6,266,139,054.68.)

As a LEOFF 1 member please remember that, individually, you have no voice with the Coalition. It is made up of organizations. Your only input to the Coalition is through the RSPOA Board. It is our job to represent your interests to the Coalition.

The Coalition will elect new officers in May. Nominations will be made by the Coalition Board and the only votes will be those cast by the oalition Board. We anticipate there will be no change in leadership in May.

Our goal as your representative to the Coalition is move the organization towards being more communicative with the LEOFF 1 community at large, identifying and building a political base and keeping the promises made back in 2000. To acomplish this we need the continued support of all RSPOA members.

We have a number of additional concerns about the directions and actions of the Coalition, but many of these concerns are either not yet clarified or inappropriate for discussion in an open circulation publication. Attend the RSPOA meetings and speak with us directly. That is the venue where we will discuss and debate these issues.

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