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Voters asked to slice public pension perks

Published: Sun, June 27, 2010 @ 12:09 a.m.


Cincinnati Enquirer

Three decades after California’s landmark Proposition 13 triggered a tax revolt across America, the state may again be on the leading edge of a wave of simmering voter discontent over how skyrocketing costs for generous public pensions are battering city, county and state budgets.

In San Francisco, Bakersfield and a handful of other cities, voters this fall will decide on ballot measures that could significantly cut public pension benefits and the amount of taxpayer dollars that fund them.

Just as Proposition 13 launched a nationwide ground swell of anti-tax sentiment 32 years ago, this fall’s issues are widely seen as a template for measures that could start showing up on ballots in Ohio and other states and cities also caught in public pensions’ tightening fiscal vise.

“California’s the first out of the gate – we’re definitely watching what happens there,” said Matt Mayer, president of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions in Columbus.

“If the Legislature and the governor fail to tackle this, we don’t care who it is, there will be people like me working the next two, four, six years to give voters a chance to address it.”

Perhaps the most closely watched pension issue on the ballot in California this fall will be a proposed charter amendment that would force San Francisco’s 26,000 public workers to contribute a larger percentage of their salaries toward pensions and also pay more for health coverage.

“Among elected officials, pension reform is the third rail of politics,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the measure’s point man. “So the serious changes needed to bring pension costs under control probably are going to have to come on the ballot, not through legislative action.”

The other proposed ballot measures in California include:

Two plans asking voters in the northern California city of Redding whether officials should pursue contract changes that would require workers to pay a share of their state pension contributions, now covered by the city, and establish minimum service lengths for retirees’ health coverage.

A proposal in Bakersfield that would reduce pension benefits for future police officers and firefighters, downgrading the current plan – under which retirees are eligible for 3 percent of their final salary for every year worked starting at age 50.

An initiative in Menlo Park that would shrink pension costs by creating a two-tier benefits system for future non-police city workers.

An unusual approach in the suburban Los Angeles community of Monrovia to cut off a major source of funding for pensions, now fully paid for by the city without any worker contributions, by abolishing a 60-year-old property tax. Because the city still would be responsible for pension benefits, officials warn that the initiative could force service cuts to pay for retirement costs.

Although municipalities’ retirement costs increasingly are cutting into basic services, officeholders often are reluctant to take on politically potent unions in curtailing benefits that usually far exceed those in the private sector. As a result, the ballot is seen as the most direct path to change.

“People everywhere are looking at public pensions and starting to catch on,” said San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. “If unions remain obstinate with this we’re-not-giving-in attitude, the voting public will put two and two together and begin to see why potholes aren’t being filled, why rec centers are closed two days a week, why libraries aren’t open.”

Since 2005, San Francisco’s annual cost for current and retired workers’ pensions and health care has soared from $419 million to an estimated $1.2 billion in fiscal 2010-11. Without changes, that figure could double within five years, according to city projections.

This month, San Francisco voters took a step to rein in future costs, overwhelmingly approving Proposition D, an Elsbernd-sponsored measure that will increase pension contributions for newly hired public safety workers from 7.5 percent to 9 percent of their salaries. It also creates a new formula under which benefits, now based on an employee’s highest annual salary, will be determined from the two top years’ average, an effort to minimize end-of-career pension “spiking” through overtime and other means.

“It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a baby step in the right direction,” Elsbernd said, noting that Proposition D will affect only future employees.

In contrast, Adachi’s proposal, Elsbernd said, “is an adult step” that would raise current workers’ yearly pension contribution, now capped for most at 7.5 percent, to 9 to 10 percent, and increase their health-insurance payments from the present 25 percent of cost to 50 percent. The plan, supporters say, would save taxpayers $170 million a year.

Adachi argues that his proposed “Sustainable City Employee Benefits Reform Act” is a good deal not just for taxpayers, but for city employees as well. “Our current pension payments clearly aren’t sustainable,” he said. “If we don’t take action, there will be more layoffs … and more budget cuts, ending in the train wreck we’re already seeing.”

In Bakersfield, City Councilman Zack Scrivner offers a similar sell for his proposed reduction in future police and fire pensions.

“Even if this is approved, the benefits still will be incredibly generous,” Scrivner said. “Besides, we shouldn’t be arguing about which group deserves what level of benefits. The discussion should be about what we can afford.”

The local police and fire unions, though, don’t see it that way. Both view the ballot measure as an attempt to circumvent collective bargaining procedures that would leave Bakersfield at a competitive disadvantage in attracting and retaining quality employees.

“I don’t know that I buy into this non-sustainable argument you always hear,” said Todd Dickson, president of the Bakersfield Police Officers Association. “You could say that about any number of programs. We’ve already made concessions on pay and our health plan. All we have left is this decent retirement program.”

Though backers of most of the ballot measures believe voters will be in a mood to bring cushy public retirement plans more in line with private pensions, law enforcement officials in Riverside County hope voters will help them protect existing benefits.

Under an initiative backed by the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, the county, which includes Palm Springs and other desert communities, could not change the current plan for public-safety workers without voters’ approval.

Supervisors, who complain that the initiative would restrict the county’s fiscal flexibility, plan to combat it in a typically California fashion – with a ballot measure of their own.


11970mach1(1005 comments)posted 6 years ago

THANK GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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2timOthy(802 comments)posted 6 years ago

While that's good for the land of fruits and nuts! But we need something done here in Ohio too. Not only with the employees,but Government Offices too!These servants are way out of line here in the worthless nut state.Way over paid!

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3palbubba(802 comments)posted 6 years ago

Union mentality and the need to get re elected are the cause of this mess. The most over paid, over benefitted, under worked segment of our society are these very workers who have been given all of the this at our expense. The saddest part is that they believe they are entitled to all of this.

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4Photoman(1246 comments)posted 6 years ago

I don't know if this is correct but it is my understanding that maintenance of foreclosed properties is the obligation of the loan servicer. The lender may sell off servicing of the loan to another party and that party handles collection of delinquent payments, the foreclosure procedure itself, boarding up-if necessary, and any cleanup which needs to be done.

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5yanks08(3 comments)posted 6 years ago


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6ytown1(398 comments)posted 6 years ago

Government Unions kind of remind me of Kudzu?

This plant was introduced from Southern Japan and China to help stop erosion of the soil in the southern United States in 1876.

It was subsequently discovered that the southeastern US has near-perfect conditions for kudzu to grow out of control — hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall, temperate winters with few hard freezes (kudzu cannot tolerate low freezing temperatures that bring the frost line down through its entire root system, a rare occurrence in this region), and no natural predators. As such, the once-promoted plant was named a pest weed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1953.

I see where we have a similar circumstance here with the Government Unions don't you?

Out of control benefits given freely by politicians to be supported by the sisters and brothers of the unions to get reelected.

It does not take too much research to find that fact, just look back at the all of the union endorsements, and the lack of actual discussions for the contracts, the usual MO for contract time is let it go to arbitration and everyone is happy. That way the decision was not on either of them. Sound familiar?

Kudzu = Rampant an out of control weed (Union Benefits).

Here read about all of the bad effects of Kudzu,


or just re read the article above. Same end results.

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7pci510(105 comments)posted 6 years ago

The cutting of the public pension is similar to what the auto industries went through after bankruptcy and closing of factories. Many employees with less amount of years were cut back or received nothing and retirees depending upon the amount of years put forth received no bonus, health care revised and some paychecks amounts were lessened. Since so many Americans have less to live on or lost jobs, houses and are unemployed American Citizens should have a say in public pensions because when it comes to public pension those in Washington D.C. have everything needed at their fingertips. Posted by Dereck

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8candystriper(575 comments)posted 6 years ago

States are making government employment unattractive by lowering wages, demanding furloughs, offering zero overtime while increasing your contributions by 50%. They want you to quit.

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9jr99(102 comments)posted 6 years ago

And when the quality of service decreases, people will be whining and crying about that, too. Twenty-five, thirty years ago, when public employees were making peanuts, there was no outcry about private sector employees needing to take a pay cut (I think public employees paid taxes back then, and I'm pretty sure they still pay taxes to this day). Seems like the private sector wants to have their cake and eat it, too.

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10ytown1(398 comments)posted 6 years ago

Has nothing about smarts, we see how many workers it takes to patch a pothole Hope.

It more has to to with the limited jobs being kept in the family. If you know what I mean? If you have enough smarts?

We are not bashing the public employees, what is happening is we are all realizing that our tax dollars are being promised a lot farther than they will go and now the PERS want's or needs a bailout to the tune of $325 Million a year to just survive. (A New Tax)

Money is going out faster than it is coming in. (Sound Familiar, GM Republic Steel, US Steel, YS&T? The list can go on.)

We all are finding out that hardly any public employees pay any contribution toward the retirement in the first place. (The Government is supposed to match the contributions, no they just pay it all, about 28%) Now the Unions expect the tax payers to fork over additional taxes so they can be provided more pay and benefits? Which for you information is becoming a lot more than the same people paying the taxes that supports all of this, then to boot want us taxpayers to bail them out because of all of the back door dealing giving away the farm in benefits and not being able to afford those benefits 15-20 years down the road.

Do you have enough smarts to understand that?

Or do you want to be categorized as a Moron too?

This is all too simple. You cannot spend more than have coming in. This applies to the Private Sector and should also apply to the Public Sector? Oh but I thought it did, but the budget system is severely flawed, and needs fixed.

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11ytown_native(1 comment)posted 6 years ago

Thank you hope4thevalley for what you said.

I no longer live in Y-town, but I still live in Ohio. I work for the County where I live. I can't speak with any type of knowledge about what the public employee benefits in Mahoning County are, but where I currently live and work, it's not what everyone seems to think.

I'm sure there are some people who are making a lot of money and receiving high end benefits. But speaking for myself and most of my co-workers, we are at the lowest rate of our pay ranges. And as the economy has gotten worse and the costs of everything has risen, our pay rates have been frozen for years. And we pay into our benefits just like everyone else. And for those of us who are at the low end of the pay rate and have not had any increases, after we have paid into our benefits (both health and retirement), our take home pay is nothing to brag about. Most of us are just getting by like the rest of you. So please don't judge all public workers by the few who are making the large salaries or who are protected by the unions. Yes, there are some of those. But the majority of us are just regular working people like you.

I read such anger and hate on these comments it's like a lynching of all public workers. And I read the comments saying things like how we all are greedy, we all deserve to have our salaries cut, we all deserve to have our pensions cut, etc... And I just would like people to know that at least the people I know and work with are just making ends meet like everyone else and if they cut us anymore, we won't be able to afford the current cost increases. (And I don't mean that we live like rich people and won't be able to afford our way of life, I mean basic things that everyone needs...house payment, groceries, utilities, etc...)

Anyway, to anyone who took the time to read this all the way through, thanks for listening.

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12jason83(21 comments)posted 6 years ago

hopeless4thevalley, your attitude is exactly what infuriates the people who PAY YOUR WAGES, HEALTH CARE, RETIREMENT. Did management let things get out of hand? Maybe, but the whole damn country is struggling. People, myself include, are being asked to give back, work more and pay more. Then we have pompous ashes like you that say na nana nana, we have a contract. You say It is not your fault its mgt. You think you are untouchable, hiding behind a fading union and the shield of a weakening govt.. You better wake up or you will all be out on your butts with nothing. Things are going to change, you can be a part of it or a byproduct of it.

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13ytown1(398 comments)posted 6 years ago

Don't fell sorry for me Hope,

I have done quite well for myself and family, what I get real tired of is the constant need for more taxes and levy's to pay for things that I pay 100% for out my pocket and have to hear the poor public worker has it so hard?

The public worker has been getting more than their fair share for way too long.

The Unions have manipulated the way contracts are negotiated. The Unions are notorious for stacking the vote, they know the vast majority of taxpayers do not vote regular basis. So the reelecting of the yes people to give the farm away has been going on for some time now and needs to change.

Novel idea for you Hope, Why not let a group of business owners representing the taxpayers negotiate your next contract.

Better Yet, Let the rest of us see the contract in full , then let us vote on it whether we feel it is fair before any raises or extra benefits are rewarded.

I do not think you would even come close to what you are pulling down now. Not even close.

Go ahead and strike, you can be replaced, there is a lot of people who could fill your shoes in a New York minute.

Go feel sorry for someone else Hope, I have a feeling this situation, like what is going down in California, is not far from happening in the rest of the country.

And yes I vote every election, but as you may already know, my vote in a Democrat strong hold, like the valley, falls on deaf ears.

Redistribution of the wealth is a sorry excuse for handing out above average wages and benefits fit for a king, to less than average people, remember how many people it takes to fill a pothole?

Hope last but not least, Every dog does have his day. our days are numbered.

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14ytown1(398 comments)posted 6 years ago

Wish we had an edit button on Vindy.com?

Last sentence should read:

Hope last but not least, Every dog does have his day. Your days are numbered

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