Michigan citizens just lost ground in the struggle for transparency in government. Hidden inside Senate Bill 797, an otherwise innocuous refinement of public pension investment regulations, was this provision exempting details of a public employee's pension from the Freedom of Information Act:
The bill was signed by Governor Snyder on December 5 as Public Act 347 of 2012. I wrote him in November asking him to veto it, but apparently I don't have as much influence as I thought. (I like to think that it was I who instigated the pension tax.)
Maybe I should take this new exemption personally. I've been requesting pension calculation sheets for recent City of Lansing retirees and posting the information on my website (police and firefighter pensions are here, all others here).
Update: From the February 19, 2013 minutes of the Police and Fire Retirement System board meeting (page 2): "Attorney [Ken] Lane discussed the FOIA changes making calculations for individuals confidential."
The reason we need to see actual pension calculations is that pensions are complicated. Typically, they are calculated by multiplying these 3 factors together:
Years of service is usually pretty obvious if you have the hire date and termination date.
The multiplier or "pension factor" is usually available on the employer's website. For state employees and teachers, it is 1.5%. For state police, it is 2.4%. For Lansing's police and firefighters, it is 3.2%. For other City of Lansing employees, it varies between 2.3% and 2.8%, depending on the employee group.
The mysterious one is FAC. An employee's salary is not so easy to obtain, and salary isn't all that goes into FAC. For example, FAC for a Lansing policeman includes the following:
In the collective bargaining process, unions push the employer to include anything that remotely resembles compensation, because the higher the FAC, the higher the pension. And to further increase that "final" average, individual employees do all they can to delay payments until those last 2 or 3 years before retirement. They let their sick leave accumulate, get as much overtime as possible, and so on. For 24 Lansing police whose pension details I obtained, FAC exceeded salary by an average of $11,573:
For 3 of them (highlighted), FAC was so high that their pensions exceed their salaries. And this was with only 25 years of service.
The new law goes into effect 91 days after the end of 2012, which is April 1, 2013.