By Chris Reed.
In the comments sections of news pages and blogs throughout California in recent days — including Cal Watchdog — I’ve seen claims that San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s aggressive pursuit of pension reform had backfired spectacularly, costing the wealthy city to suffer a brain drain as disaffected employees left for places where their skills are more appreciated and appropriately compensated.
This seemed preposterous. As a reporter and then a columnist and editorial writer in California since 1990, I have gotten to know dozens of city officials in Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Orange County and now San Diego County. They all say the same thing: There is genuine market demand for cops and in niche categories like city managers and elite planners. But that’s it. For rank-and-file workers, there is no market demand. This is reflected by the relatively small turnover in the public sector vs. the private sector.
This view isn’t just driven by the anecdotes I’ve encountered over the years. It’s exactly what the research of Steve Frates of the Rose Institute of Local Government showed. In 2008, he told me that the idea that market competition requires that public employees must get regular pay hikes and sweetened benefits is an “urban myth” and that the statistical evidence is overwhelming that except for police officers, public employee turnover is tiny compared with the private sector, as I wrote at the time. Nothing has changed since.
Account doesn’t back up claims of those who cite it
So I looked at the linked articles and did a Nexis hunt as well. And guess what? San Jose fits the historical norm. All the claims of the San Jose brain drain seem to be based on one article, by a San Jose news site sponsored by San Jose tech interests. And guess what? It quotes a union-allied politician as warning about a brain drain. But the reporter who wrote the story, as opposed to the politician she quotes, only says the city faces a problem keeping cops — the same story as always.
“Councilman Don Rocha wants to amend the city’s pension reforms to solve what he deems a more pressing problem: employee retention…. [The] District 9 councilman urges the city to re-work the disability retirement policy, lower the eligible retirement age and consider appealing the pension overhaul voters approved as Measure B in 2012. Maybe, he said, City Council should put a measure on the November ballot to give voters the option of amending the city charter. His entreaty goes before the Rules and Open Government Committee this week. …
“For one, he noted, he and his colleagues failed to anticipate the retention problem. Since pension reforms upped the retirement age, cracked down on disability pensions and knocked new hires down to a lower benefits tier, San Jose has struggled to keep enough police officers on staff. Rocha said city leaders should have foreseen this problem.
“’At this point, we see clearly that while rising pension costs may be a threat to service delivery, so too is an inability to recruit and retain, both in the public safety and federated workforce,’ he stated. ‘When I have to tell residents that we can’t investigate their home burglary, or that it will take six months to repair a streetlight, it’s not only because of pension costs, it’s also because people don’t want to work here.’”
California has the second highest rate of people unable to find full-time work — the U-6 rate kept by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that many economists think is the most telling data on workforce participation. Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeee, San Jose can’t find streetlight repair people.
Originally posted at Cal Watchdog.