Negotiations have been fraught from the beginning because the two sides see the dispute from fundamentally different perspectives.And, up until very recently, it appeared as though there was at least one problematic piece of the beginnings of a solution available. But this week the mayor took that off the table.
The Landrieu administration sees the firefighters' pension as yet another bill the city is required to pay but has no direct authority to control. Even though the city is responsible for funding the system, the Legislature sets its rules and firefighters largely control its board. The firefighters knew they weren't responsible for the tab, so they ordered top shelf and drank their fill, according to Landrieu.
The firefighters, not surprisingly, have a different take.
They say Landrieu blames them for a crisis of his own creation. For years, the system was in excellent health, according to firefighters. It wasn't until Landrieu began balancing the city's books on the back of the pension system, shorting the fund in order to direct money elsewhere, that the system's vital signs began to plummet.
Now that the fund is on the brink of collapse, the mayor wants to force cuts on firefighters, they say.
Through most of last year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu was hot on one legislative priority: getting the Legislature to pass and then voters statewide to approve a constitutional amendment that would allow New Orleans to ask local voters to double two special city property tax millages that would help fund the police and fire departments.Weird, right? There are a couple of ways to look at that. On one hand, it might be the city's purpose to finish the pension negotiations first so they can put the millage before the voters with a better idea of the total costs they're funding.
Having won those permissions, however, the administration’s interest in raising the millage rates has cooled. There are no plans in place to ask local voters to approve higher tax rates for the two departments, and such an increase may no longer be needed, Landrieu said.
“We haven’t decided whether to do it or decided whether it’s necessary,” the mayor said Wednesday.
“It’s the last resort, not the first,” he said.
Or it might be that they'd rather see if they can force the firefighters to give up their defined benefit plan and this is a way to keep the pressure on.
It could also be both.