Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has traveled the state promoting his proposal for more than $2 billion in cuts to pensions for public employees except police officers and firefighters. The New York Times says the exemption follows the lead of other Republican governors in the Midwest who have imposed unwelcome changes on state and local employees in the name of saving money and improving services. Such bills were signed in Wisconsin and Michigan.
Who would deny the heroism of police officers and firefighters? Labor experts contend that the exemptions lack substantive merit. While no one would dismiss the risks that police officers and firefighters face daily, they are not the only public employees whose work is dangerous. Statistically there are far more dangerous public sector jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says on-the-job fatalities occur at a significantly higher rate for “refuse and recyclable material collectors” than for police officers. The same is true for power line installers and truck drivers. And fatality rates for these workers exceed those for firefighters by a considerable margin. Granting that police officers and firefighters have a special claim on the public's conscience, it is not clear why the most effective way to honor that claim is through more generous pensions. It might make far more sense to rein in their pensions while raising their salaries, said David Lewin, a professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles.