SJ mayor wants to declare public safety emergency

May 13, 2011 7:23:13 PM PDT
A severe budget crisis in the South Bay could lead to the declaration of a public safety emergency. That's the word from San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed following a rare special council meeting to deal with the budget crisis.

Reed says that if sweeping pension reform isn't adopted soon, the Bay Area's largest city could conceivably find itself on the brink of bankruptcy.

"This is an emergency," said Reed. "We're proposing that we declare an emergency so that we can focus on this with all the attention that it deserves and take the actions that are necessary to avoid a disaster."

The mayor is taking decisive action and the dramatic proposal for pension reform already has the unions fighting back.

"We've been waiting six months to have meaningful discussion with this mayor, and I think today we found out why, because he's really pushing his political agenda and not looking to solve problems," said firefighters union president Robert Sapien.

What was a $63 million cost 10 years ago has skyrocketed to $250 million in the 2011 budget, and retirement costs are expected to escalate to at least $400 million in another five years.

Council members are taking sides.

"I'm supporting this initiative because we can pay people in this city to retire, or we can pay them to work," said councilman Sam Liccardo.

"This has nothing to do with the fiscal emergency," said councilman Ash Kaira. "It has to do with politics and it has to do with a right-wing, fiscally conservative agenda."

The fiscal emergency proposal comes as San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore said Friday that the city could lose 351 sworn officer positions this year because of the budget crisis.

The mayor's pension reform calls for a complex cap on city contributions, increasing the age at which full retirement benefits are triggered, making employees work longer if they want lifetime healthcare benefits, slowing the rate at which benefits increase, and limiting the cost of living adjustment from 3 percent to 1 percent per year. Now the debate begins.

"We're at a crossroads here in San Jose," said Moore. "San Jose is not the only city facing this. The pension crisis is very real; I think all sides understand that. We need to address this pension issue right now."

Many unions are questioning if the mayor's proposal is even legal because the unions are in the midst of contract negotiations. If this comprehensive reform piece does get enough council support, it could be before voters in November.


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