This past Tuesday, just before Thanksgiving, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors heard members of the public speak about proposed changes to the county’s pension system. This is obviously a huge issue around the country, with enormous implications for budgets and for workers, including in Virginia’s largest jurisdiction (1.2 million people – around 1/7th of the entire state lives in Fairfax).
First, check out Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova, who rumor has it is herself planning to retire shortly, and Philip Hagen, Budget Services Coordinator. Department of Management and Budget, as they explain what the proposed changes would do to the Fairfax County employees, uniformed and police officers retirement systems.
- “Increasing the minimum retirement age from 55 to 60”;
- “Increasing the rule of 85 to the rule of 90, which would require age and years of service to total 90 to be eligible for normal retirement”;
- “Proposed changes impacting both the employees and uniformed systems include eliminating the pre-Social Security supplement; an option that is cost neutral to the county would be established in its place, which would allow retirees to elect a higher annuity initially in exchange for a reduced annuity after reaching Social Security age.”
- “Proposed changes impacting all three systems – the employees, uniformed and police officers – include increasing the period used to calculate final average salary from three years to five years and repealing the provision that increases the initial retirement annuity by 3%.”
- “These changes if approved would apply only to employees hired on or after July 1 2019.”
Chairman Bulova then emphasized that “if you are a current employee this does not affect you…all of us have felt that that this is a contractual…issue; if you join the county under certain expectations and you’ve based your retirement plans on what what you believed would be the deal when you came to the county, we are not changing that for current employees.”
Next, a large number of people spoke, mostly against the changes but with some in support of the changes (mostly from the anti-tax/Republican “Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance“). If you want to watch the entire thing, you can do so here. For my part, I’m including below a few comments that I agree with, from Sean Corcoran, Fairfax Coalition of Police, Local 5000 IUOPA; David Broder, President of SEIU Virginia 512; Linda Sperling, candidate for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from the Springfield Magisterial District; Fairfax Education Association President-elect Kimberly Adams; and James Walkinshaw, candidate for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from the Braddock Magisterial District. I’ll include a few notes on each. My understand is that the Board will be voting on these proposed pension cuts on 12/4…
Sean Corcoran, Fairfax Coalition of Police, Local 5000 IUOPA provides some excellent background re: how we got here, going back to what he calls “the heady days of the 1970s and the birth of the vaunted 401k.” Corcoran noted that “throughout the 80s and 90s in 2000 we saw private-sector retirement systems evaporate many new systems were already on tenuous footing but the oven of defined contribution allow corporations to simply push the easy button rather than trying to fix substantial issues that impact the many of these systems.” Corcoran concluded:
“Our retirement systems are strong, they are well-run, they are well-funded and trending upwards. There is no need to be here mired in a completely contrived crisis. Quite frankly, we can’t see what benefit this board can do that our retirement boards can’t through their solid investment strategies and the fiduciary responsibilities they have to the county, its citizens and respected fund members. All that the actions proposed for your consideration do is to artificially meddle in the retirement systems, putting pressure on their management and create caste systems within the ranks of employees. We ask that you vote no on the matter before you. Allow our retirement boards to do their jobs and finally put this matter to rest. There are far more pressing issues that need our attention rather than continuing to tear into our retirement systems once a board term. And if we need to continue to keep jumping on this hamster wheel, let’s actually look at the whole picture and have our retirement boards at the table. Thank you. [Applause]”
SEIU Virginia 512 President David Broder gives an excellent presentation, first thanking the county for committing to a defined benefit pension. Broder recapped what was said in the meeting from opponents of reducing pension benefits: a) “from current employees who asked you to vote no because they know that a two-tier workforce is going to be detrimental in so many different ways”; b) “from future employees who’ve asked you to vote no because to be quite blunt they don’t know that they’re going to want to work here under that system”; c) “From Millennials [who] want a secure retirement just as every single generation wants a secure retirement”; d) “from community members, those who have been able to stay, who asked you to vote no because they moved here, they stay here, because of the amazing educators, firefighters, police officers, park staff, librarians, so on and so forth”; e) “you’ve heard that our pensions are well funded, there are different arguments about where they’re gonna go…but there is no crisis here, you know that the county is well funded…there is no reason to make these changes”; and f) “what frustrates me is the conversation we haven’t been having for the past two years; there’s a lot that we need to do in this county, there is a lot that we care about, and with this conversation going on, what we’ve been missing is a more robust conversation on the thousands of county employees who don’t have any kind of retirement security; what we’ve been missing out on is how we improve the health of our employees and reduce costs; what we’ve been missing out on is a more robust conversation on affordable housing for employees and for everyone in the community and that’s only getting worse as Amazon comes in to Northern Virginia; what we’ve been missing out on is a conversation to more fully support workers in addressing the opioid crisis and the mental health crisis; what we’ve been missing out on is a more robust conversation on how we reduce our carbon footprint and on and on…”
Fairfax County Board candidate Linda Sperling said
“I strongly disagree with the premise of balancing our budget on the backs of our hard-working county employees like those behind me…There is no question that Fairfax County does have financial challenges which require innovative and out-of-the-box solutions; however, this is not the solution.”
FEA President-elect Kimberly Adams explained very clearly why the five proposed changes to the retirement system make no sense and are counterproductive.
Fairfax County Board candidate James Walkinshaw spoke briefly, thanking the Board for “rejecting the radical proposal to move from a defined benefit to a 401k style plan.” Walkinshaw also thanked the Board “for its prudent management of our three pension funds and for its commitment to regularly reviewing the benefit and retirement packages offered to our hard-working County employees to ensure we continue to attract the best and brightest to serve our citizens.” Walkinshaw concluded that “ensuring that we continue to offer a competitive pay and benefits package to recruit and retain [dedicated county employees] is critical to our continued success as a county.” (Note: I’m not sure if that means he supports or opposes changes to the retirement system, and if so which specific changes he might support/oppose. (UPDATE 5:19 pm: Walkinshaw messaged me to say, “I wouldn’t support that package”)