Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Phoenix makes its poorest residents pay for the cushy pensions of the very cops who jail and kill them

As the City of Phoenix has been hemming and hawing about whether it will eliminate its absurdly regressive 2% sales tax on food (the cost of which disproportionately falls on the poor), the Arizona Republic reports that those charged with policing the city's poor have been making a killing (while actually doing the killing) by taking advantage of a city policy that let's retiring cops and firefighters cash out unused sick and vacation pay.  It's against the law, but no one is talking about jail. After all, these are cops, not ordinary criminals.

Phoenix allows officers to take saved up sick and vacation time as additional pay or one time payout, which has allowed some cops to massively pad their paychecks.  Some of these payments, which the state views as illegal, have totaled in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars – per person. The Republic reports that according to their research more than a dozen retiring officers received over a hundred thousand dollars each in added salary in their final years on the job.  More than a hundred retired cops receive pensions that amount to more than twice the average wage for Arizona workers.   Some have taken home over a million dollars in added pay while more than 650 have gotten over a quarter million dollars in lump sum payments, with ten boosting their lump sum payouts to over $700,000.

And it's not like Phoenix cops can plead poverty.  City cops, who at just shy of $60,000 a year already rake in $10,000 more than the statewide average for law enforcement, also make double the typical wage of other City of Phoenix employees, people who get hit much harder by that 2% sales tax than do their fellow workers in blue.  

Many of these city workers were forced to take pay cuts, freezes and furloughs in the past, as with so many other workers at the bottom of the economic ladder.  And, as is typical with austerity, while the rhetoric may be about shared sacrifice, the real pain is only distributed at the bottom.  For instance, city manager David Cavazos got a $78,000 raise last year.  Ironically, even the head of the cop union PLEA thought it was outrageous.  Other city managers got raises as well.  Meanwhile the budget has been balanced on the backs of the poor and low-paid city workers.

Which certainly puts the whole controversy in a different light. Given that the prime target of policing is the poor, essentially what the City of Phoenix is doing is making its poorest residents – and lower paid city workers – pay for the cushy double-dipping retirement plans of the very cops who will arrest, beat and imprison them and their families. Now that hardly seems fair. Not to mention that the example of the city's law enforcement breaking state law for financial gain with impunity doesn't really look good (no arrest or jail for them, apparently!).

At the very least, those who expect to benefit from this police protection ought to be the ones who pay for it. At the end of the day, it's the city's wealthy population who benefit most from keeping the poor, unemployed and over-taxed population in line. So, if the city insists on paying its hired killers such high wages, maybe they should retire the levy on food and replace it with a tax on high end restaurants and personal chefs.  You know, a little shared sacrifice.  At least we'd have some consistency. Something says that proposal would be a non-starter.

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