Who will pay?
Written by Mark Nichols
After citizens of San Diego voted overwhelmingly against raising taxes to cover deficits, the Voice of San Diego is reporting that the mayor has a great idea to balance the budget. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders has proposed 401(k)-style retirement accounts for most new city employees and eliminating their pensions. When voters rejected the slightest of tax increases, half of one whole cent, Sanders apparently decided to bring out the big guns in trying to eliminate the $70 million-plus San Diego deficit. But Sanders' plans to kill pensions for police officers needs voter approval.
Making matters worse is that the proposal won't save any money for years to come should it get passed. Sanders has just two more years to solve the financial problem he was elected to fix. In order to even make a dent in the deficit the mayor will have to resort to drastic measures.
Details of how the new 401(k) plan would work are hard to come by- a characteristic of every proposal that promises to reduce spending by balancing the budget on the backs of public employees. Sanders has said that his proposal would exempt police officers and firefighters and the only ones losing their pensions would be teachers, DPW personnel and other city workers.
But many see the plans as a Trojan horse. Once voters approve eliminating some public employee benefits, it's only a matter of time before they're gone entirely. Conservatives say that around the country, and in San Diego specifically, voters have "finally had enough."
As evidence they cite the failure of Proposition D which was shellacked in November by a margin of 63-37. The ballot measure would have increased the city's sales tax by a half-cent on the dollar for the next five years. The tide that swept so many conservatives into governor's mansions and the House of Representatives shows no signs of receding and from a labor perspective that can mean only one thing- concessions.
Consider this recent blog post from a website popular among fiscal conservatives:
"City after city is starting to address these issues. They have to. The economy finally forced it. Expect to see major concessions by public unions in big and small cities alike as taxpayers and voters everywhere have had enough. Voters are fed up with a national unemployment rate close to 10%, with 14 million unemployed, with seeing their property taxes go up, even as the value of their homes collapse, topped by public union pension guarantees the average person can only begin to dream about. It is high time mayors of cities big and small stand up for taxpayers and not for unions who contribute to their election campaigns. The inequities must stop, and they will."
Those sentiments are likely to be reinforced without the necessary pushback from organized labor. If the folks that think public employee pensions are public enemy number one continue to dominate the debate, their odds of success increase daily.