Michigan first responders fight for pensions as state tries to plug budget holes

- First responders are finding themselves on the frontline in a battle for their pensions as lawmakers say the cuts are necessary to fill holes in the budget.

Lawmakers in Lansing have been told by the governor that they need to fill a gap in the budget. The state's police and firefighters have some serious concerns that they will be the ones who have to pay for it. 

If you add up the amount of money of unfunded pension and healthcare for state government workers you're looking at $17 billion problem. Included in those workers are first responders who plan to descend on the state capitol to have their voices heard.
Back in July, the governor appointed a task force to look into how to reform retirement and pension funding to fill a $17 billion gap. That number was reached by adding up unpaid heath-care costs and unfunded pensions. 

Matt Docherty is the president of Michigan Firefighters Union. He was part of that task force but he's worried lawmakers may be going away from that panel's recommendations.

"The easy way out of a prefunding issue is to cut the benefits. And these benefits are important to us. That's what all our members who are coming tomorrow to say is that these benefits are very important to us and our families. We understand the risks that we take on the job but we assume those risks knowing we have some protections," Docherty said.

He and a few others met with Governor Rick Snyder for several hours on Tuesday and discussed a possible solution. He argues the task force that he was appointed to be the governor already had a solution. 

"If municipals are working toward that funding and making progress that will be acknowledged. What we are concerned about is a one size fits all model."

To that end, some lawmakers are currently writing a bill that may offer another solution. What does it look like? Rep. James Lower offers up a statement.

"Underfunding and the risk of bankruptcy that goes with it, is the biggest risk facing men and women working towards pension and retiree healthcare benefits as first responders. Without real reform, those earning or receiving these benefits face the very real possibility of losing those benefits in many cities, villages, townships, and counties throughout the state...That is why we have been working so hard to come up with a solution that helps ensure the people involved here, are able to keep the benefits they are counting on."

"We want an even approach to make sure the cities that made the promises will honor them."

The first responders are heading to Lansing on Wednesday and say they are trying to prevent lawmakers from rushing into a decision and hope they have strength in numbers. 

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