Why I'm pushing pension reform

"In the next 12 months, pension costs are projected to increase by nearly $100 million more than last year."
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OPINION Some have questioned why I, as a long-time supporter of progressive policies and programs, chose to venture into the uncharted waters of pension reform. The answer is simple: I believe in the value of government, particularly in providing a safety net for the poor and those who need help. When the government no longer has the ability to provide these services, everyone suffers.

I became aware of San Francisco's pension problem through advocating for my department's budget. Beginning in 2005, year after year, I saw pension and benefits costs rise, while services and programs were cut or eliminated. Funding for education, parks, street repair, AIDS, senior and after-school youth programs, mental health clinics, drug treatment programs and other basic services have evaporated while pension costs continue to escalate. Today, we spend $1 out of every $7 on pension and benefit costs for city employees; in five years, it will be one out of every $4.

In the next 12 months, pension costs are projected to increase by nearly $100 million more than last year. Think of the number of jobs, programs, and services that will have to be cut to pay this debt. These costs come at a time when the city faces a $360 million budget deficit.

Some may argue that taxes should be raised to pay for these costs. Yet progressives have shied away from tax measures in these difficult economic times. Even if there is a planned tax measure this November, it would have to raise $300 million — 10 times what last November's millionaire real estate transfer tax raised — over the next three years to keep pace with pension costs.

While conservatives have seized on rising pension and benefit costs as a vehicle to push their anti-union agenda, we cannot cede the responsibility for addressing this fiscal challenge to the right. We must protect collective bargaining for workers, while presenting a solution that strikes an appropriate balance between our obligations to retired workers and the need for continued city services.

Shortly, I will be introducing a new ballot initiative that will help reduce costs while ensuring that the pension and health benefit system is there for future generations of workers. And the initiative will do so in a manner that is fair and equitable. The highest-earning workers, including elected officials, will be asked to contribute more while the lowest-earning workers will be entirely exempt, a lesson learned from the last pension reform effort. The reforms will help eliminate the abuses of the pension system that benefit a few workers at the expense of others. Residents, elected officials, city employees, and labor leaders are invited to review the proposals at www.sfsmartreform.com and provide any comments or ideas.

The fact that pension reform is one critical component of a more comprehensive solution that may include changes to our tax policy, generation of other revenue, and even state or federal cooperation, is no reason to excuse supporting real reform.

Jeff Adachi is San Francisco's public defender.

Comments

Jeff Adachi is the only adult in the room. He is tired of seeing budget year after at the Public Defender's Office. His Prop B raised employee healthcare costs from $0 a month to $9, and city workers howled in pain.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

Mr. Adachi,
if you believed in "protecting collective bargainign rights" why are you purposely avoiding the normal negotiations process and avoiding bargaining by having abillionare fund your effort to put this on the ballot? Changing the city chater is not collective bargaining but is in fact changing the current laws to eliminate collective barganing on pension issues.

You, Michael Mortiz, and Scott Walker and the Koch brothers all seem to be on the smae rigth wing anti-public worker agenda.

If you believe in the rights of working people don't file you ballot measure and allow for regular negotiations to deal with these issues. City workers have a real interest in preserving the services they provide and manking sure their retirement is secure. Last year they negotiatied $250 million in concessiosn to balance the budget. They would be willing to negotiate to save the pension plan to, however, you are not allowing that negotiation to happen by filing your ballot measures.

Posted by SF Local on Apr. 08, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

Did you get this message Mr. Adachi? You see, you are only allowed to use the ballot to lock in and increase City employee benefts. This has no impact on CB rights even though it takes a negotiable item off the table. But anything that would require an increased contribution to pay for said benefits, well how dare you infringe on anyone's CB rights??! Makes you a regular "Koch brother"...

Oh, and that $250 million (actually $230) labor "concession" you reference. It's gone - see new $630 million new deficit projection. You have some catch up reading to do.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

Heed the local's warnings Mr Adachi - or who knows what ills may befall

Posted by Guest on Apr. 08, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

Sounds like you are making a death threat.

Adachi's plan will cap pensions at $100,000 per year. Retired city workers do not deserve any more than that.

You are draining more money each year from the General Fund. Time for you to start paying for your own retirement.

Posted by Barton on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 7:35 am

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