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Valley institute sues to stop Phoenix pension spiking

PHOENIX -- Arizona's second largest city is doing away with pension spiking.

The city of Tucson will stop letting police, firefighters and other city workers count things like their unused sick and vacation time as compensation when figuring out their retirement benefits. The decision was made after the Tucson City Attorney's Office determined that pension spiking is illegal under Arizona law.

The Goldwater Institute agrees.

"There's a state law that's real clear that you can't use things like vacation leave or sick leave for retirement benefits," said Jon Riches, attorney for the Goldwater Institute.

The institute is suing the city of Phoenix for allowing pension spiking. Riches said, not only is pension spiking illegal, it also puts a big burden on taxpayers.

"Phoenix pension costs alone have increased over the last 10 years from about $7.2 million to over $120 million today," he said.

The lawsuit is currently making its way through the courts.

"Just last week, our clients, Phoenix taxpayers, filed what's called a preliminary injunction to ask the court to stop the pension spiking in Phoenix while the court reviews all of the underlying issues in the case," Riches said.

The judge is now in the process of scheduling a briefing in the case.

In October, the Phoenix City Council approved a plan that would do away with any future pension spiking, but allows workers to continue doing it until July. The Goldwater Institute said that's illegal, but Mayor Greg Stanton is satisfied with the decision.

"The pension spiking that we passed, moving forward, would say that you cannot allow for pensionability of things like a car allowance, or phone allowance, or vacation payback or any of that moving forward," he said. "We just did not ‘claw' back for those benefits that had already been accrued. That would have likely been illegal."

Stanton said he would have more comment about Tucson's decision after he receives a full briefing about it.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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