St. Louis Public Radio News
8:21 am
Tue February 9, 2010

Showdown over pensions looming as St. Louis tries to balance budget

St. Louis, MO – Amid ongoing budget concerns, St. Louis City officials continue to complain about costly pension payments they say are the largest threat to the city's fiscal solvency.

St. Louis Aldermanic President Lewis Reed has joined a chorus of officials, including Mayor Francis Slay, who claim that pension arrangements for city employees are no longer sustainable.

In 2008 the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the city was required to fund pension plans at 100 percent of the actuary's recommendation.

However, Reed said there is room for negotiating benefits.

"Some of these Cadillac benefit plans were negotiated in good faith," Reed said. "But in today's world they just don't work."

Steve Olish sits on the St. Louis Police Officers Pension Board and says those pensions are binding agreements, and the city can't simply back out of them whenever they feel like it.

"I understand the city's concern." Olish said, "But think of it like this: Say you had obligations for child support and family support. You couldn't say that, 'well my budget is stretched a little thin right now so I'm going to not make my child support payments right now so I can spend it elsewhere.'"

Unlike other city employees, firefighters and police officers do not make contributions to social security and rely more on pensions during retirement.

Pension obligations comprise about fifteen percent of the city's budget for the upcoming fiscal year.