Not all deplorables are running for office. Today’s politicos covered in this column are not on the ballot this fall, but their influence has shaped local politics over the past decade. They’re really excited about an upcoming opportunity to sell the public on a rehashed version of what they call pension reform.
Faced with the prospect of burning, looting, and potholes, San Diego voters overwhelming approved Proposition B in 2012. This flavor of ‘pension reform’ was sold as the only possible solution to the city’s budget crisis. It was ‘vote for this, or your city will fail.’
The measure switched all new city hires, except police, from pensions to 401(k)-style individual investment plans. It hasn’t been a financial solution for the city’s money problems as much as it has changed the employee-employer relationship.
A government job-which foregoes participation in the Social Security system–no longer offers a defined retirement salary; the payout for those ‘golden years’ is now determined by the whims of the stock market.
The promise of financial redemption was the sweetener for voters; the real goals for Proposition B’s backers were undermining the benefits of collective bargaining and the power of government as an institution.
Career employees would eventually become contract workers, supervised by the entities profiting off what once had been the services and facilities once considered public.
Driving through the Faulconer FastPass Tollbooth on the Carl Demaio portion of Interstate 8 to the beach is all part of this Libertarian vision of paradise.
Last week the California State Supreme Court unanimously declared the process leading up this vote to have been a sham. It sent the case back down to the appellate court, saying it was up to those judges to figure out the details on how to resolve the two-tiered pension mess that simply undoing the measure would cause.
The two politicians originally in charge of selling this siren song are ready to put the band back together for a reunion tour, featuring a new (and probably more odious) version of their greatest hit, “I Got Mine, Screw the Rest of You.”
From the Union-Tribune:
It was as if they had seen the decision coming long ago.
Many people were discussing a new pension measure for the 2020 ballot well before the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that San Diego did not follow the law when it placed a retirement system overhaul before voters six years ago.
Among them were former Mayor Jerry Sanders, currently president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Carl DeMaio, a radio talk show host and former City Council member and mayoral candidate. The two spearheaded the Proposition B pension measure that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2012.
Former Mayor Jerry Sanders sees Proposition B as his legacy. Former City Councilman Carl Demaio sees it as the launchpad for his career goal to be the savior of the California Republican Party.
Any discussion of what the “Son of B” will look like needs to start with the things Republicans are most scared of–history and facts. While there can be no denying the need for changing the way the City of San Diego does business, it’s important to know just how we got here.
The primary selling point for Proposition B was that the City’s employee unions represented a threat to future financial stability.
Visions of greedy union bosses swilling cocktails at the 19th hole of a luxury golf course, and lowly librarians soaking the taxpayers were the basis for the “only” solution to the pension crisis.
Once upon a time, Carl DeMaio even rented a portable billboard touting the exorbitant pension of an ordinary librarian, who was actually a retired executive for the entire library system.
I owe Rachel Laing (ex-reporter, ex-city employee, currently pr maven) credit for the most of the words (via Twitter) in the following short, but necessary, history.
Our pension crisis first surfaced more than two decades ago, but its causes date back to the 1970s, as she and Larry Edwards explained in a 2005 San Diego Magazine article.
The seeds of today’s crisis, she [Diann Shipione, a former trustee of the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS)] says, were sown during the taxpayer revolt of the late 1970s. That populist uprising culminated in the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 and was later topped off with Proposition 218 in 1996. Together, they limit elected officials’ ability to increase taxes.
With that factor combined with raids on local revenue by the cash-strapped state legislature—as well as the city’s below-average tax and fee structure and its reluctance to cut back during economic downturns—revenue did not keep pace with expenses. By 1996, the city could not meet its minimal pension obligation, and a deal was struck with the labor unions to increase benefits while purposely withholding money from the pension fund. Following the stock market bubble-burst in 2000, the terrorist attacks in 2001 and the subsequent recession, this insidious arrangement was renewed in 2002.
[City politicians] looked at the retirement system as a piggy bank,” says Joan Raymond, president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 127 in San Diego. “They needed that money for the Republican National Convention, Qualcomm Stadium, Petco Park and other things.”
In the 1990s, the (Republican) mayor and city manager wanted to spend money but didn’t want to ask citizens for more. They stopped making payments needed to pay the city’s portion of the full actuarially prescribed amount into the pension system to keep the fund growing at a pace that would enable it to meet its obligations.
The employees signed off on this thanks to promises of increased benefits when they retired. This was a deal negotiated at the highest levels, by people who should have known this was a foolish and dangerous bargain. The mayor, city manager, and City Council assured everyone things would be fine.
A booming stock market made it possible for the pension fund’s return on investments to mask the impact of the deliberate underfunding.
It was NOT the employees who weren’t paying. They faithfully turned over their portion of the obligation, paycheck after paycheck, year after year.
When–once again, that darned history thing–the stock market collapsed, the full impact of the underfunding became known. The ensuring political crisis re-shaped the city over the ensuing decade.
After all the investigations, resignations and recriminations it was the employees who bore the brunt of the various remedies through frozen pay, negative public sentiment, slashed benefits and more.
In 2008, employees and their unions agreed to a negotiated pension reform that substantially reduced benefits and costs. According to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, who was then heading the local labor council, the promises made by then-Mayor Jerry Sanders included not putting a pension killing measure on the ballot.
Fast forward to 2012, and a so-called citizen’s initiative is circulating, openly backed by Sanders. Testimony given before the Public Employment Relations Board indicates his office directed city resources behind the scenes in support of the measure.
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling came because Jerry Sanders was brazen enough to assume he could by-pass his obligation as the city’s chief negotiator to meet and confer with the unions. The Mayor didn’t have to agree to anything; he just had to pretend to make an effort.
Instead, Sanders bypassed union representatives’ demands to meet and confer over the measure. In 2015, a large public sector union filed unfair practice claims against the City of San Diego. The Public Employment Relations Board ruled in their favor, stating that Sanders’ failure to confer with unions was an unfair labor practice.
So now, having been rebuked by the court, Son of B is coming to the 2020 ballot.
Once again, the City–now with Mayor Kevin Faulconer as the chief negotiator–will have the opportunity to sit down and negotiate an agreement. It’s likely they won’t. Politics will take precedence over pragmatism.
If Faulconer wants to have any sort of future with the GOP, he’ll roll over and play dead
With Jerry Sanders now heading up the Chamber of Commerce, and Carl DeMaio cranking our ballot measures based on bullshit assumptions on a regular basis, there will be no legal requirement for negotiations.
The underlying political atmosphere is different this time around, however. A couple years of President ‘Me First’ may be enough to change the electoral dynamics.
Local institutions, like the Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Club, who foul public discourse with fear mongering and lies need to be confronted and condemned to allow a solution that’s fair to all to emerge.
Finally, a strong local voter turnout for better candidates who could use their platforms to make common sense arugments might be enough to stop Son of B in its tracks.
If Jerry Sanders is now saying he will again work with Carl DeMaio to destroy our city, can we at least get Democrats to recognize the Chamber is now a right-wing organization that we should distance ourselves from? This is unbelievable. Why are you empowering any of them?
— Lorena (@LorenaSGonzalez) August 3, 2018
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