Staff and Wire Reports
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Dozens of Oklahoma firefighters visited the state Capitol to express concern over proposed legislation that could change their pension benefits and guidelines.
A state House committee is considering several pension bills. Legislative leaders say modifying Oklahoma's public pension systems is one of their top priorities for the 2011 Legislature because of the systems' $16.5 billion unfunded liability.
Luke Gregory of the Edmond Fire Department said he and other members of the department were on hand to show support for the pension benefits they currently receive. Raanon Adams of the Lawton Fire Department said firefighters believe many of the proposed changes are unfair.
"We don't need to go after firefighters and police officers to balance the budget in Oklahoma," said Rep. Scott Inman, (D) Oklahoma County.
One bill would increase firefighter pension contributions and raise the years of service a firefighter must worker to receive the pension.
Firefighters and volunteer firefighters hired after November 1, 2011 would have to work 25 years instead of 20 years to get their pension. More of their paychecks will go to a retirement fund, but the benefits will have a lower cap.
"Basically what's going on here folks is you have to pay more out of your pocket for less benefits. Where I come from in southwest Oklahoma City, that is unfair," said Rep. Richard Morrissette, (D) Oklahoma County.
Firefighters say this not only impacts them, but entire communities.
"Recruitment is going to go down for both paid and volunteer, the quality of personnel on the job is going to be lessened," said Bob Gaston, a retired Woodward Firefighter.
Firefighters say their pension is everything because they don't pay into social security.