Arizona Voters Approve Major Overhaul of Public Safety Officers’ Pensions

On May 17, 2016, Arizona voters approved Proposition 124, a legislatively referred constitutional amendment affecting post-retirement benefit increases for participants in the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS). The purpose of this constitutional change was to ensure the constitutionality of S.B. 1428, a piece of legislation signed into law in February 2016 that made significant changes to PSPRS, which covers state and local law enforcement personnel and firefighters. This article explores both the merits of the Arizona public safety pension system leading up to and after Proposition 124. It maintains that Proposition 124 impacts the Arizona legal system in such that future reforms will require constitutional amendments. The author asserts that, because state constitutions tend to be much easier to amend than the federal constitution, a series of one-time carveouts in different states for different reforms is not unimaginable. He hopes that voters will eventually approve a broader constitutional reform—one that would explicitly fold Pension Clause protections into Contract Clause doctrine, treating the state’s pension promises on a par with its other contractual obligations.

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