Traditionally, U.S. voters have backed generous pay and benefits for the cops and firefighters willing to risk their lives to keep citizens safe–especially after the deaths of many emergency workers in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York. But as economic conditions have worsened and many local governments have run into severe fiscal problems, that attitude has started to change, reports Reuters. Since the 2007 recession, some cities have tried to roll back pension benefits and pay, among the most rigid and, in some cases, highest expenses in municipal budgets.
For example, the average annual pension for Suffolk County cops who have retired since 2007 was $86,702, according to figures from the Manhattan Institute, a public policy think tank, against $37,270 for other county employees, excluding teachers. The county, facing a three-year deficit of $530 million, declared a fiscal emergency in March. From New York to California and points in between, cops and firefighters have been drawn into pitched battles over their pay and benefits. In San Diego and San Jose, California’s second and third biggest cities, voters in June overwhelmingly backed sweeping pension reforms. In San Jose, all employees will have to choose between reduced benefits or higher retirement contributions.