California Voters Approve Pension Cuts For Public Employees
In addition to Wisconsin, organized labor was dealt another blow yesterday when voters in California approved measures to cut public employee pensions:
SAN DIEGO—Voters in two major California cities overwhelmingly approved cuts to retirement benefits for city workers in what supporters said was a mandate that may lead to similar ballot initiatives in other states and cities that are struggling with mounting pension obligations.
Supporters had a simple message to voters in San Diego and San Jose: Pensions for city workers are unaffordable and more generous than many private companies offer, forcing libraries to slash hours and potholes to go unfilled.
“The public is frustrated,” said San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican who staked his mayoral bid on the pension measure and advanced to a November runoff in Tuesday’s election to lead the nation’s eighth-largest city.
In San Diego, 66 percent voted in favor of Proposition B, while 34 percent were opposed. Nearly 97 percent of precincts were tallied by early Wednesday.
The landslide was even bigger in San Jose, the nation’s 10th-largest city. With all precincts counted, 70 percent were in favor of Measure B and 30 percent were opposed.
“The voters get it, they understand what needs to be done,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat who has called pensions his highest priority.
Shrinking tax revenues during the recession are also responsible for service cuts in San Diego and San Jose, but pensions were an easy target. San Diego’s payments to the city’s retirement fund soared from $43 million in 1999 to $231.2 million this year, equal to 20 percent of the city’s general fund budget, which pays for day-to-day operations.
As the pension payments grew, San Diego’s 1.3 million residents saw roads deteriorate and libraries and recreation centers cut hours. For a while, some fire stations had to share engines and trucks. The city has cut its workforce 14 percent to 10,100 employees since Sanders took office in 2005.
San Jose’s pension payments jumped from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million this year, equal to 27 percent of its general fund budget. Voters there approved construction bonds at the beginning of the last decade, but four new libraries and a police station have never opened because the city cannot afford to operate them. The city of 960,000 cut its workforce 27 percent to 5,400 over the last 10 years.
On some level it’s not surprising that something like this would be successful in a state like California, where state and local budgets have been out of control for years. Nonetheless, if this can pass in one of the bluest states in the nation, we could be entering a very significant period where the relationship between public employee unions, which even Franklin Roosevelt opposed, and the taxpayers will be significantly changed.