Tampa police and firefighters need a dose of reality. The city has eliminated 527 positions — a tenth of its work force — in three years to cope with the recession. Despite fewer employees, the city's pension contributions have nearly doubled since 2007, to $30 million this year. Mayor Pam Iorio balanced next year's budget only by taking $31 million from reserves. This is no time to offer another round of exorbitant pay hikes. Police and fire need to realize the sacrifices most American workers are making and forgo raises this year.
The city's general employees union, which represents the rank and file, agreed in November to a contract that includes no pay raises in the coming year. The union deserves credit for its support for fiscal restraint. The move saved almost $1.5 million immediately and more long term by reducing future pay and pension benefits. Police and fire need to show the same restraint.
Unfortunately, the two unions that fared the best during the years of the housing boom have brought almost nothing serious to the table. The police union, which won 9 percent annual raises in recent years, agreed to forgo a cost of living increase, which is meaningless. Prices are flat and the cost-of-living hike is not indexed to inflation, anyway.
A special magistrate, in a nonbinding recommendation, called for the police to forgo a raise this year but for the city to reinstate the increases in 2011. This finding was inappropriate and a political sop to the union. The only issue is whether a raise in 2010 is warranted — and it is not. Whether the city can afford to offer raises in 2011 should be examined next year.
The City Council will decide the police union contract on Wednesday. Council members, who covet the police union's endorsement in elections, should rule out raises this year, and make no promises for 2011. Whatever the police get, the firefighters will want. But saying no to both unions for one year will save $2.5 million. Taxpayers' money doesn't grow on trees. If secretaries can accept a pay freeze to help save jobs and ease taxpayers' burden, so can police and firefighters.