City of Phoenix Pension Reform, Propositions 201 and 202 (March 2013)
Proposition 201, if approved, will amend the Phoenix City Charter to make five changes in the City of Phoenix Employee Retirement System (COPERS). The most important of these changes would require any member of the Plan to contribute half of the funds for his or her retirement and establish that retirement eligibility occurs when the sum of the employee's age and years of service equals 87 instead of 80, which is the current rule. Proposition 201 leaves intact the current retirement eligibility rules of 60 years of age with 10 years of service and 62 years of age with 5 years of service. Proposition 201 also establishes certain multiplier benefits to increase over time instead of decrease in order to encourage later retirement.
Proposition 202, if approved, will put in place what is known as a "prudent investor rule". It would also ensure that the city's Retirement Plan remains tax-exempt and make the amended plan compatible with all applicable federal tax laws.
If Proposition 201 is approved, it will apply only to those employees hired on or after July 1, 2013. The provisions will not apply to any employees who were hired by the city prior to July 1, 2013, nor will the provisions apply to any now-retired former city employees. Police and fire employees, and elected officials, are exempt from the changes proposed in Propositions 201 and 202.
If the proposed changes are approved, the city's contribution to COPERS is expected to decrease by 51%, yielding an approximate cumulative savings of $596 million by year 2037, while the highest employee contribution rate is estimated to be 13.6 percent of salary.
The City of Phoenix has approximately 14,000 employees. About 8,000 of them participate in COPERS, the city's pension plan. There is a 20-40% turnover in city employees every seven years; as a result, the city expects to see "significant savings in about 10 years" if Proposition 201 is approved.
Phoenix election law requires that when a ballot measure is on the City of Phoenix ballot, the city must prepare a statement to appear in the official sample ballot that fairly states what the impact of the measure will be, if it is approved. These are called "summary statements". The summary statements for Propositions 201 and 202 appear below.
|“||This proposition, if adopted, would amend the City Charter to put in place new terms of participation in the City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Plan for employees hired by the City of Phoenix on or after July 1, 2013. More specifically, for these new employees only: (1) the member's contribution rate to the Retirement Plan for each year will be 50 percent; (2) the current Rule of 80 retirement option would be replaced with a Rule of 87 retirement option; (3) the pension multiplier factor applied to various years of service in the calculation of the member's retirement benefits would would be changed from a multiplier that decreases over time to a muliplier that increases over time; (4) the member would not be eligible to receive a month of service credit for any month in which the member had less than 20 days of service; and (5) any minimum pension obligation is eliminated. Additionally, this proposition, if adopted, would allow new employees of the City of Phoenix who prior to July 1, 2011 were allowed to participate in Arizona State Retirement System, and still have contributions and service on record with that System, to participate in the Retirement Plan on the terms that existed prior to these changes.||”|
|“||Esta proposición, en caso de adoptarse, enmendaría la Constitución de la Municipalidad para establecer términos nuevos de participación en el Plan para el Retiro de los Empleados de la Municipalidad de Phoenix para aquellos empleados contratados por la Municipalidad de Phoenix a partir del 1.º de julio de 2013. En específico, sólo para estos empleados nuevos: (1) la tasa de contribución del miembro al Plan para el Retiro para cada año será del 50% de la tasa de contribución anual calculada por los actuarios del Plan para el Retiro, y la Municipalidad pagará el otro 50%; (2) la opción de retiro actual correspondiente a la Regla de 80 se reemplazaría con una opción de retiro correspondiente a la Regla de 87 (esto significa que, al sumarse, la edad del miembro y sus años de servicio deben ser iguales o superiores a 87 para que el miembro pueda retirarse de acuerdo con esta opción); (3) el factor multiplicador aplicado a los años de servicio del miembro para el cálculo de sus beneficios de retiro se modificaría de un multiplicador que disminuye con el transcurso del tiempo a un multiplicador que aumenta con el transcurso del tiempo; (4) el miembro no sería elegible para recibir un mes de crédito de servicio por ningún mes en el que tenga menos de 20 días de servicio; y (5) se elimina cualquier obligación de pensión mínima. Además, esta proposición, en caso de adoptarse, permitiría a los empleados nuevos de la Municipalidad de Phoenix, que estaban autorizados a participar en el Sistema para el Retiro del Estado de Arizona antes del 1.º de julio de 2011, y que aún mantienen contribuciones y servicio registrado en dicho sistema, participar en el Plan para el Retiro de acuerdo con los términos que existían con anterioridad a estos cambios.||”|
|“||This proposition, if adopted, would amend the City Charter to put in place a prudent investor rule for the Retirement Board responsible for directing investments for the City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Plan, and would also add provisions confirming that the Retirement Plan is a tax-exempt governmental retirement plan and is administered in accordance with applicable federal tax laws. In addition, this proposition, if adopted, would allow the City to contribute more than its annual actuarial required contribution to the Retirement Plan in a fiscal year when the City has the financial ability to do so to reduce Plan liabilities.||”|
|“||Esta proposición, en caso de adoptarse, enmendaría la Constitución de la Municipalidad para establecer una regla del inversionista prudente para la Junta para el Retiro responsable de dirigir las inversiones para el Plan para el Retiro de los Empleados de la Municipalidad de Phoenix, y agregaría además disposiciones que confirman que el Plan para el Retiro de los Empleados de la Municipalidad de Phoenix es un plan para el retiro gubernamental libre de impuestos y es administrado de conformidad con las leyes tributarias federales. Además, esta proposición, en caso de adoptarse, permitiría a la Municipalidad aportar más que la contribución requerida desde el punto de vista actuarial anual al Plan para el Retiro durante un año fiscal cuando la Municipalidad tenga la capacidad financiera de hacerlo con el fin de reducir las obligaciones del plan.||”|
Supporters of Proposition 201 who provided arguments in its favor that are printed in the city's official voter guide include:
- Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton
- Rick DeGraw, Chair of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Richard Rea, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Jack Thomas, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Ann Seiden, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Karen Schroeder, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Mark Dobbins, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Roger Peck, member of the Phoenix Pension Reform Commission
- Todd Sangers, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
- Amy Bratt, manager, Public Affairs & Economic Development, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
- Susan Anable, Vice President of Public Affairs, Cox Communications Southwest Region
- Brian Mueller, president, Grand Canyon University
- Brandon Goad, president, Phoenix Parks Foundation
- B. Paul Barnes, co-founder, Citizens for Phoenix
- Ann Malone, co-founder, Citizens for Phoenix
- Neal Haddad, director, Citizens for Phoenix
- Kurt R. Sheppard, Chief Executive Officer, Valle del Sol
- Tom Simplot, Councilmember, City of Phoenix; Honorary Co-chair, Phoenix Pension Reform Committee
- Daniel T. Valenzuela, Councilmember, City of Phoenix; Honorary Co-chair, Phoenix Pension Reform Committee
- Jo Marie McDonald, Vice President, Phoenix Community Alliance
- Donald Keuth, president, Phoenix Community Alliance
- Michelle Rider, president and CEO, Westmarc
- Bill Sheldon, chairman of the board, Westmarc
- Betsey Bayless
Arguments in favor
Supporters of Propositions 201 argue that the changes will save the city money and cut back on the rapidly increasing pension costs of the city while, at the same time, retaining an attractive Retirement Plan that can draw quality workers for city employment. Greg Stanton, the Mayor of Phoenix, says that the propositions on the March ballot strike the appropriate balance between limiting the city's expenditures and providing competitive employment opportunities for the city's workforce. Stanton says, "We are going to be able to put significantly more resources into police, fire, our library system, parks and recreation. Under the proposal, it's a true partnership with our employees. We share in the risk. We share in the benefit."
Not enough change?
Some city council members have argued in favor of more drastic reforms, claiming that Proposition 201 merely slows down the movement towards very problematic financial difficulties and possible bankruptcy. Council member Sal DiCiccio voiced his preference for model number three, which was a 401 type pension plan. But since a 401 type plan lacked council support, DiCiccio argued for the reform measure to include caps on city contributions. Speaking about city employee pension funding, DiCiccio said, "These costs are skyrocketing. The taxpayers need to be protected. I'm going to try to see if I can rally the votes for (a contribution cap)."Jim Waring joined DiCiccio in calling for a contribution cap for the city to protect the tax payers from over spending, but these contribution caps were rejected by the council in a six to three vote.
Supporters of Proposition 202 who provided arguments in its favor that are printed in the city's official voter guide include:
- Linda Reidenback, chairperson, City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Board
- Elizabeth Bissa, vice-chairperson, City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Board
- Michelle Rider, president and CEO, Westmarc
- Bill Sheldon, chairman of the board, Westmarc
Arguments in favor
Arguments in favor of Proposition 202 include:
- It will provide the Board of COPERS "with greater opportunity to maximize investment returns and which are similar to the investment standards used by many other retirement plans."
- It will update the city charter "to include several federal tax law rules which are currently documented in Board policies. Compliance with the federal tax rules is required for all tax-deferred retirement programs."
- It will allow the City of Phoenix "to reduce the unfunded liabilities by making additional contributions to the Retirement Plan, at the City’s discretion and when the City has the financial ability to do so."
Text of ballot questions
The question on the ballot:
|Shall Part I, Chapter XXIV, Artile II, Sections 14.1, 17.3, 19.1, 19.7, 27.1(b), 28.1(b) and 28.1(c) of the Charter of the City of Phoenix be amended, and shall new Sections 2.22 and 2.23 be added to this Article, to reform the City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Plan by creating new terms of participation for employees of the City of Phoenix hired on or after July 1, 2013 who are members of the Retirement Plan as described above?|
The question on the ballot:
|Shall Part I, Chapter XXIV, Artile II, Sections 34.1 and 34.2 of the Charter of the City of Phoenix be amended, and shall new Sections 28.1(f), 34.3, 34.5, 43.1, 43.2, 43.3 and 43.4 be added to this Artile, to reform the City of Phoenix Employees' Retirement Plan by putting in place a pudent investor rule for the Retirement Board, adding provisions confirming that the Retirement Plan is a tax-exempt governmental retirement plan and is administered in accordance with applicable federal tax lawes, and allowing the City to contrivute more than its annual actuarially required contribution to the Retirement Plan in a fiscal year when the City has the financial ability to do so to reduce Retirement Plan liabilities?|
Path to the ballot
Propositions 201 and 202 were referred to the March 12, 2013 ballot on October 31, 2012 through a unanimous (9-0) vote of the Phoenix City Council.
The Phoenix City Retirement Plan cost taxpayers $28 million in 2000 while it cost $110 million in the 2012 fiscal year.
The rapidly rising costs of the retirement plan is what led to the decision of the Phoenix City Council to push for pension reform. The City Council released a list of goals for pension reform which consisted of rebalancing contributions and making a 50/50 partnership with employees, attracting high quality workers with a competitive pension plan and saving money. To accomplish these goals, a "Pension Reform Task Force" was appointed in January of 2011. The task force was charged with the responsibility of working with management, consultants and other stakeholders to propose recommended changes.
The Pension Reform Task Force held 13 public meetings and several public input sessions. On February 14, 2012, the final recommendations were presented to the City Council. The Pension Reform Task Force made these recommendations:
- A continuation of the city's Defined Benefit Program.
- A 50/50 contribution split between the employees and the city
- An increase in retirement age.
The Task Force, however, was opposed to having the city move from a "defined benefit" plan to a "defined contribution" plan.
In May 2012, the pension reform options available to the city were limited by a Maricopa County Superior Court judgement. This judgment held that municipalities in the county, including the City of Phoenix, are not allowed to change the pension plan of any existing employee or retiree. This meant that any changes to the city's pension plans could apply only to newly-hired employees. With that constraint, the City Council developed three reform models, each of which only applied to new hires. The first model mostly adhered to the changes recommended by the Pension Reform Task Force. This model is the one that was finally selected by the Council and was placed on the ballot as Propositions 201 and 202.
The second model put forward for deliberation by the council was the same as the first model except that it added caps on the city's contribution at 10%, 7% or 5%. The addition of a contribution cap was voted down in a six to three vote. Model three proposed a mandatory 401 system with matching 10%, 7% or 5% contributions from the city.
After the Pension Reform Task Force presentation to the council in February, but before any legislative action on the Council's part, a court case was decided by the Maricopa County Supreme Court which changed the pension reform possibilities for Phoenix even though it was brought about by an unrelated statewide pension reform. When Bill 1614 was voted into law by the Arizona Senate, changing the employee contribution to the Arizona State Retirement System from 50 to 53 percent, seven schoolteachers sued. Judge Eileen Willett decided in favor of the teachers, ruling the pension changing bill unconstitutional as retirement benefits are considered by the Arizona Constitution to be contractual relationship between the state and its employees and state law forbids "impairing the obligation of a contract." In her ruling, Willett wrote, "When the plaintiffs were hired as teachers, they entered a contractual relationship with the State regarding the public retirement system of which they became members. Their retirement benefits were a valuable part of the consideration offered by their employers upon which the teachers relied when accepting employment." Since this ruling prevented the City of Phoenix from changing the pension of any current employees or retirees, the Phoenix City Council went on to propose models for reform that only took effect on new hires.
- March 12, 2013 ballot measures in Arizona
- Maricopa County, Arizona ballot measures
- Relevant Portion of the Arizona Constitution: Article 29
- City Councilman Sal DiCiccio:Phoenix Pension:No Reform/Slightly Better
- Notice of election
- Phoenix unveils pension-reform plan
- Phoenix City Code and Charter
- Pension reform added to 2013 ballot, Stanton and council unanimously agree
- [http://phoenixpensionreform.com/supporters/ Phoenix Pension Reform ("Yes on 201")
- "Yes on 201" on Facebook
- Phoenix unveils pension-reform plan
- East Valley Tribune, "Pension reform added to 2013 ballot, Stanton and council unanimously agree," July 1, 2012
- Phoenix City Election Notice for March election
- PENSION REFORM UPDATE AND RECOMMENDATIONS, City Council Report
- Ahwatukee Foothill News, "Special election ballots to be mailed Feb. 14", February 11, 2013
- City of Phoenix, Sample Ballot for the March 2013 election
- City Council Man Sal DiCiccio:Phoenix Pension:No Reform/Slightly Better
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- Phoenix Pension Reform FAQ
- See the Pension Reform Task Force Document here for a list of the members of the task force
- Pension Reform Task Force Presentation Document
- Arizona pension law ruled unconstitutional
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