Controversial pension reform amendment goes to voters

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A charter amendment aimed at reforming Cincinnati's troubled pension system was passed out of council Tuesday. The vote was required since the needed signatures were in place supporting the initiative.

All council members oppose the ballot initiative that will soon be in front of voters. They do not, however, all agree on whether the city is doing enough on its own to rein in the $860 million dollars of unfunded pension liability.

Cincinnati for Pension Reform has responded to city concerns raised in an August 5 report from the City Manager.

Current and former city workers filed into chambers Tuesday to hear what council had to say about the proposed amendment.

"In my eyes I think we did what we were supposed to do and council has not met their obligations," city retiree Bernadette Watson said of pension contributions.

"It's very easy to just throw out there 'Let's just push out the retirement age, let's change the COLA', and what's important for both our employees to know as well as the public to know is that this council adopted some of the most sweeping changes to any public pension system in the country for current and future employees," mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls said of the initiative.

Qualls argues those changes solve the pension issues long-term. Her plan for dealing with the pension problem is laid out on her campaign website.

On the other side, council member Chris Smitherman criticized the action of council.

"Even me disagreeing with what's going on the ballot, I don't think anyone here has any room to grandstand that they've done their job," he argued.

Smitherman, along with mayoral candidate John Cranley proposes increasing annual contributions to pay down the unfunded liability and looking at new investment strategies.

"There's an election coming up on four year terms and I think the retirees and our workers have the right to know what exactly this council intends to do about the pension problem," Cranley said, addressing council.

Even though fire and police employees are not a part of the city's pension system, they still have skin in the game if the amendment passes and budget cuts are made. Local 48 spokesperson Matt Alter urged taxpayers Tuesday to consider the consequences.

"They're going to have to really look at this and say 'Am I willing to cut, have massive cuts to my basic services that I pay taxes for or am I willing to pay more in taxes?" Alter emphasized.

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