Pittsburgh’s firefighters union backed off its request for an Allegheny County judge to force the city to avoid a state takeover of its municipal retirement accounts. The change was made yesterday as City Council again rejected a compromise parking plan to raise money for the ailing city pension funds with just 11 days to go before the takeover deadline.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 1 attorney Joshua Bloom said the union realizes a judge can’t force the city to fund the pensions.
“That authority rests solely with council and the mayor,” Bloom said. A court hearing on the lawsuit was postponed because of the union’s change in stance.
The city pension funds have nearly 29 percent of the money needed to cover about $1 billion in obligations for employees and retirees. Under state law, the city must raise the funding level to 50 percent or the Pennsylvania Municipal Retirement System will begin managing the funds, likely next fall. Authorities warn a state takeover will lead to sharply higher pension payments.
The firefighters sued the city this month, presenting a judge with options including forcing the city to lease parking garages and spaces, or to borrow money through a tax-anticipation loan.
Bloom said the union still maintains that Act 44, the state law that requires the city to fund the pensions to 50 percent, is unconstitutional. He plans to fight that in court next month. He said the union has to wait because the state takeover hasn’t occurred yet.
“Obviously, firefighters are concerned about how the pensions will be run, but they’re just as concerned — if not more concerned — that the city will become bankrupt, and will suffer the same fate as Detroit,” Bloom said.
While firefighters were delaying their hearing, City Council voted 7-2 to reject funding plan supported by Councilman Ricky Burgess.
Under the plan, the firm that tried to lease garages and metered spaces from the city would have paid $305 million up front to operate them, and shared with the city an additional $340 million to $355 million in parking revenue over 40 years.
Before the vote, Burgess blasted fellow council members, saying, “Today, right here, right now, in Pittsburgh, we have Democrats who refuse to fix the city’s pension problems because they can’t be mayor and because they envy the man who is mayor.”