Lansing is facing serious pension problems that could get worse with proposed five figure raises for some city leaders.

Initial recommendations from a volunteer seven-member Elected Officers Compensation Committee posed a 17% pay increase for Mayor Andy Schor that equates to $24,000 in added compensation to his $139,610 annual salary.

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Other initially proposed raises included about $3,000 extra for City Clerk Chris Swope, and about $4,000 each for city council members.

Those figures have since been revised for a final proposal that cut Schor’s raise to 3% for each of the next two years, pushing his annual pay to $148,112 by 2025. Council members would get a little more than $800 extra per year, while Swope’s proposed increase is now nearly 15%, going from a current salary of $104,371 to $123,600 by 2025, the Lansing State Journal reports.

Those figures do not include benefits and other costs. The committee approved raises will take effect automatically unless at least six of eight council members vote against the proposal.

By 2025, the raises will increase the city’s payroll alone by more than $40,000 for the 10 positions.

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The city council can reject the raises, as they did for a 3% raise for Schor in 2022, but it’s unclear whether they will. At least one member has suggested it would be the prudent move, according to the Journal.

“What have we done to deserve this,” said council member Ryan Kost, who has vowed to oppose the raises. “I do not support pay increases for city council, especially with the city property taxes going up the last two years. I just can’t justify giving politicians more.”

Kost pointed to budgetary concerns, and among the most pressing is the city’s unfunded pension liability, which continues to balloon despite $11 million in help from Michigan taxpayers.

“Lansing’s net pension liability was $402,497,602 as of June 30, 2023, according to the city’s latest annual report. That’s the gap between what the city owes the members of its general workforce and what it has available (and expects to have available) to pay them,” Michigan Capitol Confidential reports. “There is $238 million in unfunded liabilities for the fire and police department pension system and $164 million in city employee pensions.”

Lansing received $11,551,892 last year from a Protecting MI Pension Grant Program that awarded a total of $553 million to 123 communities across the state. In 2022, the year lawmakers approved the giveaway, Lansing’s unfunded pension liabilities stood at $371,959,895.

In other words, Lansing has grown its unfunded pension liabilities by more than $30.5 million since 2022 despite more than $11.5 million from Michigan taxpayers to bail out its systems.

“City officials ought to be concerned about the rules that employees use to vest in pensions,” James Hohman, director of fiscal policy for the Mackinac Center, said. In the past, lax rules have allowed employees to continue to work for municipalities while collecting a pension.

Hohman in 2021 outlined how the city could leverage $25 million in federal COVID relief to improve its pension systems, but it appears city officials likely did not heed the advice. City officials did not respond to Michigan Capital Confidential’s request for comment.

“It may be tough to pay down pension debts with stimulus checks … because Congress prohibited it,” Hohman wrote.

But Hohman noted at the time there are ways “local officials are allowed to use their stimulus checks to free up extra cash, which can then pay down pension debt.

“This would protect retirees and save taxpayers money in the long term, and help local governments get out of the pandemic stronger,” he wrote.

Lansing’s financial situation ultimately boils down to priorities and the focus of city leaders.

This time last year, the city was faced with the decision of awarding raises for the mayor’s staff or funding warming centers for the homeless. Schor opted for the former, but was unanimously overrode by the city council, according to WILX.

This year’s budget and decision about the raises will provide the latest look at whether city leaders are truly focused on helping the taxpayers they’re elected to represent, or something else.