No kid gloves for them

In the bipartisan agreement that averted a national government shutdown over the winter, one component was a military pension cut to cost of living increases down to a percentage point below the inflation rate. That prompted a furious fight in Congress this year as veterans’ leaders beat up on Congress for mistreating “our troops.”

As always, “our troops” were treated with a hushed reverence, as though they are not subject to scrutiny along with the rest of government. It’s always risky when certain groups are considered untouchables in public debate, because it leads to policies slipping through that haven’t been fully scrutinized. It was not an attitude that even the troops and veterans themselves relished. Some questioned why they were being treated so well and suggested veterans’ lobbyists were overreaching. Retired lieutenant colonel Tom Slear wrote a Washington Post essay headlined, “I’m an Army veteran, and my benefits are too generous.”

It’s true that members of today’s army do not scrape by as once was true. Those who served during the Vietnam era, even if not in Vietnam, will recall the news stories about soldiers’ families on food stamps. But when the draft ended and Congress and the Pentagon had to start paying servicemembers decently to recruit an all-volunteer military, things changed. Pay and benefits are now generous. It’s now possible for servicemembers who enter out of high school to retire at 38 and begin second careers while drawing full pensions.

One observer asked why so many were assuming that servicemembers would not be willing to pitch in and help during hard times as other public employees have done, particularly since the February repeal of the pension cut was paid for by a 2 percent cut to Medicare reimbursements. Still another commentator pointed out that while servicemembers were being treated so well, some of their hometown counterparts—police and fire—were not. It is, indeed, interesting to contrast the kid-gloves treatment between the military with the treatment of firefighters and police officers, who have been beaten up all around the nation during these hard times.

In Reno, City Councilmember Dwight Dortch has been leading the fight against local firefighters, who have taken pay cuts in order to allow other—in some cases less critical—city workers to continue working. The firefighters have taken more than 7 percent in cuts since 2011and are now asking for an 8 percent increase. Even that won’t bring them even, since the inflation rate since 2011 was 6.8 percent.

Reno police, meanwhile, are struggling just as hard, taking pay cuts in the past and working without a contract for more than a year as the city tries to end retirement health benefits entirely for new officers, making Reno less competitive in recruitment.

We’re a little surprised police and fire are asking for so little from a city government that has handed out incentives to businesses like a drunken sailor—think Cabela’s and the Reno Aces—and that provides automatic pay hikes to its city council.

It’s crazy that the city can offer a tax break for attracting tourists to a company that doesn’t attract tourists yet is unwilling to treat people who face hostile fire—both literal and figurative fire—with greater concern. We are particularly disappointed that the new members of the city council have not kept a tighter leash on city administrative officials who want to crack down on police and fire benefits.