Recent newspaper editorials pick up where New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu left off when it comes to confusing the public about what is really at stake regarding firefighters’ back pay in New Orleans. They will have you believe this is primarily a firefighter pension issue.
Firefighters have worked in good faith to resolve the pension issues by making massive changes. Firefighters have reduced their benefits, increased their contributions, raised their retirement age, adopted city governance recommendations and have restructured $74 million in past due pension payments, while adopting nearly all of the recommended pension reforms of the New Orleans Business Council.
The decision by a civil court judge to threaten the mayor with house arrest stems solely from a contempt charge in the back pay case.
For more than 30 years, the city has refused to pay firefighters the earned wages that all presiding judges, including the State Supreme Court justices in a 7-0 ruling, have ruled is owed. The city of New Orleans has signed a consent judgment confirming they owe $75 million in back wages and $67 million in interest.
The mayor has not presented a reasonable payment plan.
The mayor would like you to believe that paying firefighters will devastate city services, like the much-needed street repair projects. The mayor is well aware that the city’s capital outlay dollars cannot be used to pay firefighters, yet he still leads the public to believe it’s a “firefighter versus city services” scenario.
The city is sitting on a $75 million surplus. Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin testified in court that the city ended 2014 with a $33 million surplus, and the city is about to get an additional $42 million settlement.
The firefighters judgment can be paid without decimating city services.
Firefighters have presented a responsible, long-term settlement that will not break the city or put any unwelcome tax burden on citizens. A reasonable payment plan can be financed from several sources including projected increases in sales taxes and property tax collections, and through a portion of rental payments from the new World Trade Center project.
One hundred and fifteen firefighters have died without receiving a cent of the back pay they are owed.
As chief executive officer of New Orleans, the mayor took an oath to perform the duties of his office in accordance with the law. His flagrant disregard of the law is surely not a standard of official behavior acceptable under the rule of law.
president, New Orleans Firefighters Association Local 632