San Francisco court affirms ballot status for pension reform initiative

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 30-Aug-2010

Public Defender Jeff Adachi of San Francisco, California, today (Monday, August 30) received a green light from a local court for his pension reform initiative, designated Prop B. Civil Court Judge Harold Kahn rejected all procedural arguments put forth by the opposition and approved the measure for the November ballot.

This ruling thrwarted an attempt to strip the meaure from the ballot before voters could consider it. In a press release sent to CapitolBeatOK, which has covered the issue closely due to Oklahoma’s severe public pension and retirement plan challenges, Adachi said the court ruling was a victory over “special interests and labor union representatives” who tried to block the measure from getting to the voters.

Bringing the aggressive lawsuit to strip the measure off the ballot pre-election were the San Francisco Fire Fighters, Local 798, International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, Local 21, Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, the San Francisco Municipal Executives’ Association, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association.

“This is an important victory for the people of this City,” said Adachi. “Now, the voters of San Francisco, not special interests, will finally have a choice on how their tax dollars are spent on pensions for city workers. By voting yes on Prop B the taxpayers will get some relief in carrying the entire burden of having to fork over more and more taxpayer dollars each year to meet the unsustainable demand of public employee pensions.”

The initiative has garnered nationwide attention as a possible approach to reform steps for state and local pension plans nationwide, including Oklahoma’s state retirement plans.

Adachi continued, saying,  that as a result of Jud Kahn’s decision, “San Franciscan’s will be able to stop the crowding out of vital city services for the most vulnerable by saving the City millions of taxpayer’s dollars, money that can also be used to protect the parks, schools and streets which are enjoyed by all San Franciscans.”

Judge Kahn upheld the basic assumption of the legislation which is that the City and County of San Francisco can require all city employees to pay up to 10% of wages into their own pensions per section A8.525 of the City Charter. He further stated that California law “permits increases in pension contribution rates by employees after they have been hired if there is some ‘commensurate’ or ‘comparable’ advantage to the employees such as protecting the financial integrity of the pension system.”

Prop B specifically addresses the sustainability of the City’s pension system by requiring city employees to contribute to their own pension fund.

Adachi drafted the pension reform measure that could add $170 million to San Francisco’s budget if it is implemented after the November election. Adachi and his team gathered 49,178 signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2010 ballot. The initiative had survived first round scrutiny by local officials, despite a local law allowing even a single challenged signature to place more than 1,000 names at risk. After gaining ballot status in early August, the initiative faced the union-financed legal challenge that Judge Kahn has now rebuffed.

Prop B would require all employees of the City and County of San Francisco to contribute between 9% and 10% to their pensions and allow a 50-50 share in the cost for dependent health care.

Currently public employees are guaranteed a pension when they retire between the ages of 55 and 62 whether they pay into the fund or not and have 100% of their healthcare paid by the City.  The City also pays 75% of dependent health care costs for all city employees and retirees.

If approved, the proposal, which originally qualified for the ballot on August 2, could provide a model for states and communities seeking to avoid massive budget cuts, tax increases or both due to unfunded mandates in public employee pension funds. 

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.