Controversial pension reform measure goes down in Phoenix

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Much to the relief of police officers and firefighters, voters said no to proposed pension reform in Phoenix.

Proposition 487 had been one of the most hotly contested ballot measures.

Supporters said the measure would not affect public safety. The idea was to replace the current pension system with a 401(k)-type system for new city employees. The goal was to end pension spiking. Opponents, including police officers and firefighters, feared that such a system would take away death and disability benefits.

"We removed [pension spiking] at the bargaining table by agreement with the city," said Phoenix firefighter P.J. Dean before Election Day. "Pension spiking no longer exists. One of their primary claims of Prop. 487 is that it would eliminate pension spiking and in reality pension spiking has already been eliminated."

Vice Mayor Jim Waring said he believes pension spiking is still an issue despite recent city contract negotiations to end the practice.

Firefighters and other public safety workers went door to door in the days leading up to the election, encouraging voters to reject 487.

"A lot of hard work over months has finally been recognized," Tom Van Dorn, a police officer who worked against 487, said Tuesday night. "I think Phoenix voters understand the concerns of its public safety … and they chose to side with public safety."

Opponents said had 487 passed, legal challenges would have cost the taxpayers quite a bit of money.

Scot Mussi, the executive director of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, said the measure would have saved taxpayers $400 million.

The defeat of 487 means supporters of pension reform will have to come up with another way to sustain the city's current system.

"This debate is far from over because the fiscal problems still exist," Councilman Sal DiCiccio said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "Elections have consequences. If the fiscal problems are not fixed, you will continue to see more cuts in service and higher taxes and fees."