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Beyond Wisconsin: Blue on Blue in California

Although it may surprise readers of the New York Times, Wisconsin is not the only state going to the polls today. Nor is the fate of Scott Walker the only battle in the War on Blue. Six other states also vote today, and two local ballot measures in California are especially worth following.

The cities of San Diego and San Jose—America’s eighth and tenth largest cities, respectively—are voting on ballot measures designed to drastically cut public pensions. The ballot measures may not have received the same national media exposure as the Wisconsin recall election, but supporters and opponents alike believe the outcome will reverberate in cities throughout the country.

For starters, unlike other propositions that have sought to dismantle union benefits, these ballot measures will affect current employees as well as new hires. The Associated Press has more details:

The ballot measures differ on specifics. San Diego’s Proposition B imposes a six-year freeze on pay levels used to determine pension benefits unless a two-thirds majority of the City Council votes to override it. It also puts new hires, except for police officers, into 401(k)-style plans.

More than 100,000 residents signed petitions to put the San Diego measure on the ballot.

Under San Jose’s Measure B, current workers would have to pay up to 16 percent of their salaries to keep their retirement plan or accept more modest benefits. New hires would get less generous benefits.

The AP also notes that while the economic downturn has impacted tax revenues, ballooning public pension costs have hit city budgets hard. In San Diego, payments to the city’s retirement fund totaled $231.2 million this year (up from a mere $43 million in 1999), making up 20 percent of the city’s general fund budget, which pays for basic services like libraries and road repairs. Meanwhile, in San Jose, pension payments have soared to 27 percent of its general fund budget.

The harsh realities of a looming fiscal catastrophe have a way of focusing the mind and blurring ideological divisions: San Diego’s mayor is a Republican; San Jose’s is a Democrat. Both agree on the need to reform public pensions. As Chuck Reed, the mayor of San Jose, put it: “It’s my No. 1 priority because it’s the biggest problem we face,” he said. “It’s a problem that threatens our ability to remain a city and provide services to our people.”

Few polls have been conducted on either ballot measure, although one survey at the beginning of May found considerable support for Proposition B in San Diego. Results will be known later tonight (East Coast time), and Via Meadia will follow up once the votes are in.

Dealing with the emerging catastrophe of unpayable pension bills is, regrettably, going to be an important issue for some time to come. As Republicans and Democrats across the country struggle to manage the mess left behind by foolhardy union bosses and complaisant politicians, both parties are likely to agree on one truth: the war on arithmetic never ends well.

[UPDATE: Early reports from California showed both measures in the lead. We'll have final results in the morning.]

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  • http://inthisdimension.com alex scipio

    It’ll be interesting to see how the SD and SJ voters go…. but CA itself has, according to a Stanford survey, $500 BILLION in unfunded public sector pension liabilities…

    And though Moonbeam loves to talk about his $16B deficit (up from only $9B a few weeks back), the fact is that CA also owes teh Feds $14B and local school districts $10B, for an ACTUAL deficit this year of $40B… plus that $500B donkey in the room….

    CA is in FAR worse shape than the MSM lets on…

  • Corlyss

    “For starters, unlike other propositions that have sought to dismantle union benefits, these ballot measures will affect current employees as well as new hires.”

    Well, that’s gotta be a union poison pill op. No one I’ve ever heard, even the most wild-eyed fiscal hawks, has ever talked about delivering a kill shot to current retirees like slashing their existing pensions. That would be IMO violating the Constitutional ban on interference with contracts.

  • Kevin M

    California needs a windfall tax imposed on larger pension checks, rolling back into CalPERS. There also needs to be a way to break the benefit ratchet that the state courts have discovered in the state constitution. Not being able to alter any benefit or rule on any existing or retired worker, save in their favor, is going to make saving California next to impossible.

  • Diane

    Correction: San Diego and San Jose are the 2nd and 3rd largest cities. Only Los Angeles is larger. I think that’s significant.

  • http://Calwatchdog.com Wayne Lusvardi

    The question in San Diego is: is Prop B better than, say, voting for former Republican turned independent candidate Nathan Fletcher for Mayor and work for a negotiated settlement in lieu of Prop B that may be appealed to the courts and could be overturned. Anti-tax Mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio may sound like the taxpayers candidate – but if Prop B fails a court appeal and DeMaio is inflexible in any bargaining this might backfire??? This is somewhat like the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma – the accused accomplice either cops a confession in return for a reduced sentence or immunity or loses everything and ends up with a 30 year sentence. Which would you pick?

  • Doug in SD

    In San Diego, there is also a measure banning Project Labor Agreements from public contracting.

  • sestamibi

    Complacent, not complaisant. Gawd.

  • NJD

    Obviously this needs to happen. Not only will it cut down on costs through reducing benefits to retirees, it will hopefully encourage city employees to work longer. There are few reasons that any employee should retire before 65. For city/state government to fiscally work, employees need to stay on the job longer.

  • JLK

    @ Sestambi

    Both spellings mean very close to the same thing. If you will bother to check the Oxford Dictionary, it shows the 2 spellings as synonyms. By not showing off your spelling bee brilliance you won’t become a waste of reply space.
    Thanks
    JLK

  • ajb

    complaisant: 1: marked by an inclination to please or oblige 2: tending to consent to others’ wishes [Merriam-Webster online]. Some advice: check a dictionary before you try to correct a great writer.

  • thibaud

    All for it. Voted Yes on Measure B in SJ.

    Now, can we rein in those other regulatory capture scam artists, the TBTF banksters and the private health insurance mafia?

    When will Via Meadia attack the other leeches who are suppressing economic growth and prosperity in this country?

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