Voters May Not Decide on Pension Plan

State board questions legality of Comprehensive Ballot Reform Initiative

In a move that may bring months of campaigning to a halt, a state labor group has questioned whether the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative can even make it on the ballot in June.

The initiative will have to take a detour in court after local labor unions teamed up with the state’s Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to file an official complaint. A court date hasn't been set yet, but the ruling could remove the initiative from the June ballot completely.

The labor groups claim that the pension plan violated collective bargaining laws. They say as a citizens' initiative, it should have actually been filed by citizens, as opposed to citizens with strong political connections.

Mayor Jerry Sanders helped to develop and promote the pension plan as a private citizen – not as mayor. Mayoral candidate and City Councilman Carl DeMaio has championed the plan for several months now.

The pension plan would replace city workers’ pensions with 401(k)-style plans, and would freeze pensionable pay for five years.

Click here to read and watch our continued coverage of this ballot initiative.

The labor unions' main issue with the ballot measure is that they city did not negotiate the pay freeze with the unions first. Labor advocates say they would be going without a pay raise for about 10 years if the pension reform initiative is voted into action.

"We would argue that it's a very monumental step that the State of California has found that Mayor Jerry Sanders, and therefore the city of San Diego," said Michael Zucchet, general manager of the Municipal Employees Association.

Since its introduction, Congressman and mayoral candidate Bob Filner has criticized the ballot measure, saying freezing pay and taking city workers off a pension system would be attuned to "throwing them under the bus." He also believes the freeze wouldn't actually save as much as its advocates say it would.

Click here to watch a recent interview with DeMaio about his campaign.

DeMaio said he wasn’t surprised the state board agreed with the local labor unions about his pension reform initiative.

“It provides yet another example of the contempt the government unions have for the taxpayers of San Diego and the lengths they will go to in protecting their unsustainable pension payouts,” DeMaio said in a statement.

He gave his response in a press conference at the same time Filner held a conference call with reporters Monday morning.

In response to the injunction, Sanders said the decision was unfortunate.

"The bottom line is this measure has rightly qualified for the ballot. The public deserves the opportunity to vote on this,” he said in an email sent from Washington Monday, where he was touting the ballot measure.

Filner said he may unveil his alternative pension reform plan at tomorrow’s city council meeting or depending on the result of the PERB complaint, he may delay.

Unofficially, Filner has hinted at the details of his alternative plan. The backbone of his plan would involve refinancing the pension fund at a lowered interest rate, and capping the six-figure pensions of city management workers, he said Monday.

The state's lawsuit, expected in a matter of days, probably will be put on a fast track because March 9th is the county registrar's filing deadline for June 5th ballot measures. 

"I would acknowledge that this still has a little ways to go," Zucchet said. "But the game has certainly changed now that PERB has gotten on board."

For more election coverage, visit our Decision 2012 page for candidate bios and articles about the major issues.

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