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.]