In San Jose, the current model for pensions and benefits will be substantially adjusted. In San Diego, it will be replaced. Both results come after voters overwhelmingly supported ballot initiatives in Tuesday’s elections.
San Jose’s Measure B will likely be remembered as the signature achievement of Mayor Chuck Reed’s tenure in San Jose. It gives employees a choice: continue in the current pension system but pay more for it, or opt for a new model with reduced benefits. The increased costs for the current system would be used to pay down the pension’s unfunded liabilities.
San Diego’s Measure B would amend the city charter and canonize a new method of calculating and providing pensions to employees. The current defined-benefit model would be replaced with a 401(k) style approach for most city workers. Police officers would retain their defined benefit package.
“We believe this measure offers the kind of commonsense reforms necessary to help stabilize San Diego’s retirement system,” said Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, a group that endorsed both the San Diego and San Jose measures.
Pension costs have contributed to the squeeze felt by many local government budgets in recent years. According to the ballot argument in favor of the San Jose measure, pension costs have increased from $73 million per year to more than $245 million per year over the last decade and now account for 20 percent of the total general fund budget.
Opponents to the plan have already gone to court challenging the legality of ballot-box alterations to pensions. It is likely that the legal battles over both measures will continue.
Despite the bitter campaign waged in San Jose, voters in that city have joined the growing trend of approving pension reform. In recent elections, pension reform has failed only once – that was in San Francisco.