By Doug Porter
Former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio and proponents of a California ballot initiative requiring pension changes to go through a public vote are screaming foul about the California Attorney General’s official description of that measure. The language, starting out with “eliminates constitutional protections” will appear on petitions backers use to get signatures.
The backers of the “Public Employees. Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits Initiative/Constitutional Amendment,” issued a statement blasting ‘union bosses’ and ‘politicians’ in response to Kamala Harris’ wording.
Likely most upsetting to the measure’s backers was the omission of the word “empowering.” This squashed the idea of tapping into the politics of resentment and was a hoped for main selling point by proponents.
The loss of the promise of offering voter say over “union bosses and politicians” leaves initiative advocates with the language of the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office saying the measure could produce significant savings if approved by voters next year.
I doubt we’ll hear much about part two of the LAO analysis, which says “The magnitude and timing of these effects would depend heavily on future decisions made by voters, governmental employers, and the courts.” So, in reality, nobody knows.
Next up for the latest assault on public employees will be a threatened lawsuit (they lost with a similar case in 2012), followed by fundraising with the hope of collecting the $30 million it will take to sucker enough voters to sign petitions.
Given that the threshold for qualifying signatures in much lower this time around, thanks to low voter turnout in the off-year elections, I’d say they’ll go for it, if for no other reason than to divert union monies from supporting other candidates and causes. This will be just one battle that’s part of a much larger strategy.
From the Sacramento Bee:
“This simple initiative gives voters the ability to stop sweetheart and unsustainable pension deals that politicians concoct behind closed doors with government union bosses,” former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, the measure’s proponents, said in a joint statement. “That’s why the politicians and union bosses oppose this initiative – and why they continue to try to mislead the public on what the initiative does.”
This measure is a lot of things, but simple is not one of them. As to the misleading part, let’s just say the mostly likely scenario is the pot calling the kettle black.
Shrink the Government, for Fun and Profit
The invisible hand of the market as the determining factor in the ways and means of collective action in society represents the ultimate goal for DeMaio and his band of advocates.
The road towards that libertarian paradise is a three step process, involving deprivation, denigration and privatization. First, a “crisis” is declared or exaggerated. Then the humans integral to the the entity at the heart of the problem are disparaged as a means of removing them from helping to create a solution. And finally, a “common sense” solution emerges along with promises (often unfulfilled) of big savings and higher efficiency.
One of the basic tenets of this conservative/libertarian strategy is the destruction of guaranteed pensions in favor of market-based savings plans. Ultimately, the goal would be to eliminate the concept of pensions for all but the “winners” in the Randian worldview.
For now, they’re willing to settle for letting stockbrokers skim 401k plans for commissions. And when (not if) the market crashes, thanks to whatever scam emerges from the next round of deregulation, all those retirees are just gonna have to collect recyclables to pay the rent.
The California Compromise, Already in Place
Here in California, Gov. Brown and the legislature worked out a significant compromise back in 2012, resulting in sweeping changes in the ways pensions are funded and administered. Moody’s Investors Service gave their stamp of approval on the deal, saying the legislation boosts the credit outlook for state and local governments participating in CalPERS.
This compromise won’t solve every conceivable future problem, but did keep in place a defined benefits system, albeit with employees being expected to carry a bigger share of the costs.
Common sense (unless you refuse to recognize the right to organize) dictates that collective bargaining should be the way things get done. What’s odious about the “reform” measure is what on paper seems to be it’s appeal to voter veto power. The reality of the ballot box ballots it sets up would be anything but democratic. And talk about your voter fatigue…
What we’re going to hear in coming months as DeMaio –along with former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed,– get the campaign rolling, are dire predictions about pension costs eating into public services and frequent mentions of bankrupt government entities.
No doubt we’ll get to see the retiree version of the Cadillac Welfare Queen splayed across ads. Or maybe he’ll use the “retired librarian” campaign, wherein a public employee’s job is misrepresented (a line employee as opposed to an upper level manager) and compared to whatever kind of public figure is currently polling well.
Let a Thousand Retirement Plans Bloom
Central to the pension reform measure being proposed is the concept of getting voter approval for each and every aspect of future plans, defined so broadly as to include employees transferring between agencies.
The devil’s in the details, but what are currently statewide standards defined by the constitution would become subject to what has become the dirty business of election campaigns.
From Bill Raden at Capital and Main:
By giving voters the authority to determine benefit plans for local teachers at the district level, the Reed measure would immediately splinter the retirement system into 1700 separate plans and sweep away the so-called “California Rule” that currently puts public-sector pension promises behind the political firewall of the California Constitution’s Contract Clause.
“The measure would allow voters in a school district to change all of the terms and conditions of a member’s benefits earned for future work,” the letter stated, “to increase their required contributions or to impose additional risks on the plan’s ability to achieve full funding. … For new employees of school districts statewide, voters will not be obligated to enroll them in a defined benefit plan, a defined contribution plan, or any retirement plan at all.”
In the latter case, teachers in the poorest or stingiest districts would find themselves left on their own, with Social Security as their only assured source of retirement income.
The ax would also disproportionately fall on women, who comprise 70 percent of the public school teacher workforce, and who would be particularly penalized for interrupting their careers to raise families. The Reed measure eliminates the current portability of CalSTRS’ defined benefit plan and mandates that returning teachers be treated as “new employees,” which would effectively place them at the whim of district voters.
The final indignity would be the likelihood that the act’s very “empowerment” of voters to make changes to the terms of the plan on an ongoing basis would run afoul of IRS rules, and that could result in the revocation of CalSTRS’ tax exempt status. Without tax exemption, the letter points out, “the system would effectively close and the State and school districts would have to assume principal funding of earned benefits for retired educators and their beneficiaries, and to pay the annual taxes due on the income from CalSTRS’ $190 billion investment portfolio.”
DeMaio and Reed need 585,407 valid voter signatures to qualify the measure for the November, 2016 state ballot. They’ll no doubt be funded by John Arnold, the ex-Enron employee who walked away from the company’s collapse a wealthy man, even as the company’s workers lost out on their future.
Mr. Bush Meets #BlackLivesMatter
Civil rights activists are making good on their promise to take their cause before all the presidential candidates.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also spoke in San Diego yesterday, got an earful during a Las Vegas appearance.
The event marked the fourth interruption in recent weeks of a 2016 presidential candidate by grass-roots advocates identifying as members of the Black Lives movement, who say they are trying to get the White House contenders to more directly focus on institutional racism. Earlier in the week, Black Lives Matters protesters tried to hijack a Hillary Clinton event and over the weekend Sen. Bernie Sanders was forced off the stage at a Social Security event in Seattle because of protesters.
From Think Progress:
At the end of the event, the protesters chanted “black lives matter,” which was quickly met with “white lives matter” and “all lives matter” chants.
It’s only a matter of time before the reactionaries start chanting “USA, USA.”
Here’s fact that matters, via Think Progress:
The SDPD Facial Recognition Program
The New York Times has posted a story about the San Diego Police Department’s use of facial recognition software, suggesting these programs may be misused in ways violating people’s rights.
“No way”, says the SDPD, firing back via social media and calls to the Times editors complaining about errors in the story. In response, two corrections were made in the story, but its premise that something murky is going on still stands.
The use of this software isn’t really news. Several articles over past months have discussed the $475,000 grant made to SANDAG from Homeland Security providing funding for 25 local agencies to utilize facial recognition programs.
A story in Voice of San Diego, published just about a year ago, concerned license plate readers, facial recognition and various other technologies being employed locally:
SANDAG also has 16 machines that record the signals cell phones send when they’re trying to connect to WiFi or Bluetooth signals, called Bluefax systems. Mostly they’re used for anonymous data tracking for things like traffic, but could include certain personal information.
Altogether, they’re creating a San Diego with quite a network of public surveillance systems of which many residents aren’t aware.
“San Diego has all these things, and you just don’t see a lot of questions raised about civil rights issues,” said Dave Maass, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that promotes civil liberties in the face of new technologies. “People are dazzled by cool and novel technology. These agencies should have someone who is an advocate for privacy, and who makes sure adequate privacy policies are written around this technology.”
Maass and other rights advocates have been probing the policies regarding use of this technology via public records requests. They have been largely stonewalled.
With all this secrecy, the SDPD shouldn’t be surprised when unflattering stories emerge.
…The Times story is messed up: it calls Ocean Beach an “upscale neighborhood.”
On This Day: 1942 – Henry Ford unveiled his “Soybean Car.” It was a plastic-bodied car that weighed about 1000 lbs. less than a steel car. 1963 – Civil rights leader and union president A. Philip Randolph strongly protested the AFL-CIO Executive Council’s failure to endorse the August 28 “March on Washington” 1967 – The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Joan Baez to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC, because of her opposition to the Vietnam War. Baez responded with a performance at a free concert at the base of the Washington Monument.
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Lori Kern says
Hi Doug, I have a couple points: First, in your quest to be fair, you used the term “The pot calling the kettle black.” In reality, the union bosses I know, and the one I work for, definitely want what’s best for workers. As a former public employee, we used to say we took those crappy salaries because we knew we would have a retirement someday. So, in my opinion, there is no pot – only a kettle.
Are you aware of what DeMaio has done to the City of San Diego with Prop B? He has crippled their ability to hire quality employees, plus there’s no more reciprocity, so no one from other cities would dare come here. It also costs the city more money to do the 401(k) plan. You should check this out.
Also, you might want to check out what’s happening with Lorie Zapf’s campaign promise of not taking a pension.
Doug Porter says
First of all, I have a body of work going back three years, nearly a thousand columns. Nowhere in those columns have I ever disparaged any union leader.
Having said that, politics is a rough and tumble business.
I deliberately avoided repeating any of the negative remarks aimed at Carl DeMaio– If you’d really like me to repeat those words so I can make a point about pot…kettle… I just didn’t think it was needed at this stage of the game, hence the implicit criticism of a tactic–not criticism of what union leadership does for working people.
I doubt that you can find anybody (outside of Jim Miller, maybe) who editorialized against Props A and B more than I did. I fully intend to expound further on the failures of Carl’s “reforms” as this campaign progresses. (I do try and limit myself to 2000 words a day, five days a week)
Thanks for the suggestion about Lori Zapf, by the way…