Despite an unprecedented show of force by red shirted police and firefighters who packed the huge San Antonio City Council chambers and poured out into Main Plaza on Wednesday, observers say momentum on council is in support of significant adjustments to the generous health care benefits the public safety workers now enjoy, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"This is just a delayed impact on them of what everyone else has felt across the board over the years," said Wendy Kowalik, President of Predico Partners and a respected financial analyst in San Antonio.
The Healthcare and Retirement Benefits Task Force reported that San Antonio spends $19,122 a year on health care benefits for every uniformed city employee, which is 2 1/2 times higher not only than civilian city workers in San Antonio, but is substantially higher than the benefits enjoyed by police and firefighters in other major Texas cities.
The average San Antonio pubic safety employee pays 9% of his or her total health care cost, in the form of premiums, copays, and other out of pocket expenses. That compares with a national average of 43%. In Austin, for example, the average uniformed city employee pays 36% of the total cost of health care.
Kowalik says the only thing the city of San Antonio is trying to do is bring local costs in line with what everybody else is already paying.
"What every employee across the country has experienced in a change in their health care," she said. "That is something that everybody in this country has had to deal with."
The police and fire unions say people who run into burning buildings for a living are not 'every employee in the country,' and the special needs that public safety employees have requires special types of health care benefits.
But Kowalik says benefits like the ones the local officers and firefighters now receive are simply unsustainable in the long run.
"If the city does not take this action, they run a huge risk in not being able to employ the number of people who are on the payroll right now," she said.
In fact, the task force reported that unless these costs are reined in, the city will be paying 100% of its general fund revenues on public safety costs, meaning that without doubling the property tax, there will be no money left to fund streets, libraries, or any other city service.