In the face of what State Fire Commissioner Edward Mannis is calling a serious shortage of emergency responders House Republicans are looking at making some “hard choices”, and considering cutting future responders benefits and curtailing current ones.
The plan would cut benefits for future hires, freeze benefits for current officers, and pay off any pension debt with what future employees pay into a new system. It would also end post-retirement health benefits for members of the new system. Retired police and firefighters wouldn’t be touched by the measure.
Don’t worry though. GOP gonna do the GOP thing and give responders a tax break on their local earned income tax so that the loss of pensions as an incentive will be balanced with a new signup incentive. It will all come out in the wash right?
He mentioned that state legislators are working on coming up with more incentives. One of them is a bill that would allow municipalities to waive their local earned income tax for volunteer fire and emergency medical service responders.
State Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Blair) along Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie) want to gut local EIT revenues saying this is the way to handle the issue of responder retention, along with gas cards and tuition reimbursements.
Professionalized services is just too good for PA with a $6 billion dollar price tag. Instead we should just rely on the good will of our neighborhood business people.
Another is simply to ask local businesses for non-financial support, which can take the form of giving an employee time to assist the fire company with its information technology needs or human resources.
In some states they are even beginning to advertise on the trucks.
Emergency services are public good that the state should be taking leadership on, but instead legislators are passing the buck down to municipalities giving them the worst options to deal with the problem. Cut relatively successful pension programs, and take a bite out of your own EIT revenues.
Instead of maintaining the obviously flailing status quo fire, EMS and police pensions need to be rolled into PMRS and services need to be operated on the county level. There is even some evidence to suggest voters would support new revenues for this shift.
Donald Konkle, a former Harrisburg fire chief and now executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire Emergency Service Institute, said a poll conducted by Penn State found 67 percent of respondents said they could support a half of 1 percent increase in their homeowners and/or auto insurance to support fire and EMS services in their communities.