If we're going bankrupt, let's get there as soon as possible
Last week, the City of Portland revealed that its estimate of its unfunded pension and disability liability for police and firefighters had been underestimated by as much as $400 million -- bringing the current total to nearly $2.5 billion. Billion, with a B. And growing every year at an astounding clip.
Suffice it to say, debts of this magnitude are not sustainable, and it would be patently illegal for a private company to let that kind of retiree liability hang around without anything put aside to pay it off. Somewhere down the line, either essential municipal services are going to be severely cut, or else those expensive pension promises aren't going to be honored. You can't have it both ways.
At a time like this, you would think that the city fathers would be looking for ways to tighten up on pension and disability benefits, rather than expanding them. But you'd be forgetting that Mayor Grampy and the city's street toilet commissioner, Fireman Randy, both feed with great gusto at the police and fire pension trough themselves, and so such thoughts will never, ever enter their heads. Indeed, the entire City Council is scared to death of the police and firefighters' unions, and the commissioners know that if they cross the bureaucrat labor bosses, they'll wind up with a lot of free time to drink coffee with Greg Macpherson down at Papaccino's in the near future.
And so what do we read in the news this week? They're planning to change the disability rules so that any firefighter who gets cancer while employed by the city will automatically get to retire on job-related disability benefits. The employees won't have to prove that the cancer had anything to do with their job -- they could be exposing themselves to all manner of carcinogens in their personal habits and hobbies, and it wouldn't matter. Cigs, chew, nitrites, paint fumes -- irrelevant. They'd still get to collect, automatically.
Now that's overstating it, but only a little. The proposed change would presume conclusively that a long list of cancers (but not all) were job-related. As reported the other day by Maximum Maxine in the O:
Under the latest proposal, the following 12 forms of cancer would be assumed to be job-related when diagnosed in a firefighter: brain, colon, stomach, testicular, prostate, mouth, throat, breast, rectal, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leukemia.Given that the police and fire pension fund is itself a kind of cancer -- on the city's financial future, that is -- I suppose that this change is deliciously appropriate. But the three commissioners who are all gung-ho about this -- Fireman Randy, Sam the Tram, and Nick "Sardine" Fish -- ought to have their heads examined. On the City Council, the main occupational disease seems to be financial irresponsibility.
Oregon firefighters now have to prove such cancers are job-related to get workers' compensation or Portland disability benefits. The city's public safety disability fund considers occupational diseases to include heart disease, certain hernias, AIDS or AIDS-related diseases, tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and pneumonia.
Linda Jefferson, director of the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, and Yvonne Deckard, chairwoman of the fund's board, say the fund's costs could increase significantly if the 12 cancers are added, noting that the city's firefighting force is the largest in the state. They counter that medical studies found firefighting was a "probable" cause in only three of the cancers -- myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and prostate.