A Metro Council committee rejected a measure last week to reduce Metro’s generous subsidy offered as part of lifetime health benefits to council members.
Councilman Bob Mendes recommended to the Budget and Finance Committee that the subsidy be reduced from 75 percent to 25 percent of premium costs, bringing it in line with the subsidy for other Metro employees. Taxpayers pick up the costs that are not subsidized. The Metro Council perk is offered to council members who serve two terms. Previous attempts to reduce or end the benefit plan have been unsuccessful.
Mendes wanted to defer consideration of his measure until August to have more time to collect financial data, but the committee voted 10-2 on July 5 to defer it indefinitely, effectively killing the proposal.
“This is probably one of the most inconsiderate pieces of legislation that’s been brought before this body,” said Tanaka Vercher, vice chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.
Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell said many council members like her don’t use the Metro plan because it’s cheaper to go with insurance plans offered by employers. But the lifetime Metro plan is needed for those who may be struggling financially but still want to serve in office, she said.
“This benefit really serves a certain group of people, and those people in a lot of cases would not have an opportunity to serve on this body and represent some of the most vulnerable citizens in our city without having access to health care benefits and other things,” Dowell said.
Councilman Fabian Bedne, who is not on the Budget and Finance Committee but spoke out against the measure at the July 5 meeting, echoed Dowell, saying immigrants, low-income people and others “should be able to run for office without a concern about taking care of their family’s future.” Bedne said many council members take a hit to their incomes when running for office and serving in office and fall behind in building a safety net. He said the health benefit must be preserved “if we want to have a council that looks like the city with the diversity and representation of all people from all works of life.”
Councilwoman Angie Henderson spoke in favor of deferring the measure until August to have more time to collect information.
“I have many constituents who feel that having that benefit in perpetuity is not a good thing,” she said. “I’m not sure if I necessarily concur with that, but I would like to understand it better.”
Henderson said it’s incumbent on the Budget and Finance Committee to look at the matter from a financial perspective and vote on the measure based on its fiscal merits.
The council voted last month to give council members a 54 percent pay raise starting in 2019, the first increase since 2003.