An analysis of last week’s election reveals more than just the attitude of voters on revenues, it also shows that pension reform is sufficiently popular with voters to farewell in a variety of elections.

In San Francisco, voters had their choice of two competing pension reform measures. The first, Measure C, was approved by nearly 69 percent of voters. Voters rejected the other proposal, Measure D, by virtually the same amount. Meanwhile, Modesto voters approved advisory measures that were intended to guide council labor negotiations into the future.
City and county officials may look at these first elections to glean how to gain popular support of pension reforms.

In Modesto, Councilman Brad Hawn wrote three advisory measures that he said would give the city an accurate read of residents’ attitudes on pensions.

“As we negotiate in the future, we will have evidence of what the people think,” said Hawn in an interview with PublicCEO earlier this year. “There are lots of polls out there, but this is the best way to get the citizens of Modesto to chime in on the issues. These advisory votes will help whoever is mayor bargain with union leadership more effectively.”

The measures – Q, R, and S – were all approved by at least 57 percent of the people, with Measure R being most resoundingly approved. Measure R would change how pensions were calculated, switching to a three year average instead of a single-year formula. For a summary of the measures, you can read about them at this PublicCEO article from August 3, 2011.

In San Francisco, the approval of Measure C will increase the retirement age for certain city employees while increasing employee contribution to retirement accounts. Voters also rejected Measure D that would have included public safety employees in the new pension system, and that was unable to garner sufficient support. Even with narrowed impact of Measure C, San Francisco hopes to save as much as $1.4 billion over the next decade.
Other cities, such as San Diego and San Jose, are planning on bringing ballot initiatives forward to help solve their own pension debts. These cities could benefit from studying last week’s elections.