Thursday, July 15, 2010

Police layoffs in Oakland, California: can it happen here and will it? !

Two things made Buz's eyebrows go up yesterday, and got him wondering and thinking (thinking is always dangerous!). One was that the FOP has assessed an extra deduction on both active and retired officers in order to support the lawsuit against the city (the irony was not lost on me).

The other was that the city of Oakland, California is laying off 80 police officers, because the city is broke, and you guessed it, pension issues.

Now, mind you, Oakland only has a authorized strength of 800; so the layoffs represent 10% of the force. And IT IS NOT A LOW CRIME CITY. A police force of 800 in a city of 400,000 residents?! Baltimore has a force of 3000 in a city of 650,000 residents.

Will the city next year be forced to lay off lot of cops here?

So, the FOPs treasury cannot now afford to pay the only winners in this situation: the lawyers for the FOP and firefighters who are charging $100,000 per week. Will they win? I dunno (a technical term). Of course, they've assured their clients that they will win.

But what happens if they win? What taxes will the mayor raise to pay for a decade of her predecessors malfeasance in funding the pension? She'll never get a property tax increase thru city council; she couldn't even get a 4-cent bottle tax. So, what programs will be therefore cut?
Which agencies?
I guess we shall see, but I wouldn't want to be on probation next spring.

While Buz is not a great negotiator, his gut wishes that our union head would stop publicly calling the mayor "a liar"--even if he really thinks she is. Say it to each other in private, and remember: she's a politician, and conditions change. And perhaps saying that police and fire are going to turn their backs on the mayor and city council is a hard-nosed negotiating tactic, but I would be loath to say something like that. Because I painfully remember the police strike of 1974.


Anonymous said...

I've talked to several rank and file officers and they are extremely confident that they will be victorious in their lawsuit. I am skeptical, and no one is willing to accept the doomsday scenario. What if the officers win big? A huge victory and when it's all said and done they send the city a bill for the total amount due. The city isn't going to have the money. They can either borrow it and destroy the AAA bond rating, not pay it, or.. bankruptcy. It's happened to cities and municipalities before. If the city declared bankruptcy, all the pension fund contributions would be off the table and the retired officers in particular would be screwed.

buzoncrime said...

I haven't talked to any rank and file officers lately, but have been following it avidly, since, obviously,I have a bit of a stake in the game.

The crowd at the raucous FOP meeting unanimously voted to sue and hire the law firm (after one of its principals assured them they would win). So, I guess a lot of officers would be confident. There was really no discussion, only a lot of anger towards:..........various people. Clearly, this financial mess had many players and many bystanders over many years. But now, the younger guys, especially, are staring into the abyss.

I don't think there'll be a doomsday scenario, but like you, I'm skeptical of a "win". Many years ago, the FOP sued when the city was facing hard times, and a judge basically ruled: a. A memorandum of understanding is not a contract, thus cannot be enforced as such; b. a public need overrides it anyway; and c. if the city doesn't have the money and cant pay, it doesn't have to (paraphrasing the legalese into real world terms).

Of course, as you point out, if the unions win big, and the city if forced to pay the money (which they say they don't have), something will have to give. Most citizens like their cops and love their firefighter paramedics, but are now all taxed out. Recently all of us city residents have had our taxes raised, though not the property tax. No mas'! is what everybody says. And, sure, you can criticize the folks in city hall {and they deserve a lot of criticism), but most of this crap didn't happen or their watch, though they refuse to share the pain in their pension.
However, you can cut all the goody-good programs you want, and there still wouldn't have been enuf to pay the bill this year, and an even bigger bill next year. Everybody's broke!

i suppose, you're right, they could borrow the money, but it probably would affect the bond rating, since the city is in dire financial straits, and the recession is actually a depression in many city neighborhoods with joblessness, foreclosures, and falling housing prices. Next year's budget will probably be looking worse, since the state will almost certainly again reduce its grant to the city, and will foist a percentage of teachers pensions on the city and the counties. {the city has a high bond rating as big cities go, but is not AAA; the state has a AAA rating}.
The city cannot unilaterally declare bankruptcy, unless the state allows it, but it won't because that would endanger their AAA bond rating. And even if a judge ruled in the union's favor, he won't allow the sheriff to auction city hall to pay.

Thus, Buz sees a bad scenario (and he hopes he's wrong): lots of police layoffs, especially if the unions win any substantial victory from the court or thru negotiated settlement. In fact, there will probably be layoffs even if the case is not resolved. We hope not, there is always hope.

Buz wants the uniformed folks protecting us to get all they can, but is also worried about the viability of the pension system for the future, especially for the retirees and the younger officers.

Let's hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.