Battle over proposed SJ pension reform heats up

May 24, 2011 6:34:46 PM PDT
The rhetoric in San Jose is at a fever pitch as the City Council takes on the issue of pension reform. A Wisconsin lawmaker says San Jose is trying to do the same thing that happened in his state and it will only land the city in court.

This issue features two very strong and sincere opinions. One believes that if significant pension reform isn't adopted, the city will be on the road to bankruptcy. The other believes that Mayor Chuck Reed's proposals are simply illegal and they're even asking the attorney general to investigate.

Wisconsin Sen. Spencer Coggs flew into San Jose to blast the mayor for what he calls union busting politics.

"The proposal, like in Wisconsin, goes to the extreme," said Coggs. "It pushes the nuclear portion of finality without exploring more avenues of negotiation."

The mayor denounces the attack as rhetoric which doesn't address the cities escalating pension costs expected to total at least $400 million in five years.

"We're cutting services, laying off employees, people are losing their jobs, and services are being reduced," said Reed. "He's probably not aware of that."

Many of the city's nearly 6,000 workers say they are willing to make concessions to help solve the $115 million budget shortfall and tackle pension reform. "I hear such conflicting things and all I want is the facts and the truth," said human resources employee Brenda Harrington.

The council voted 8 to 3 to analyze a variety of reform options from reducing future benefits to slowly increasing the retirement age. Right before Tuesday's meeting, they decided to put off the vote to declare an official state of emergency. "I'm confident we'll be making that declaration in coming months, but today won't be the day," said Councilmember Sam Liccardo.

Some councilmembers are standing firm and will not support the vote when it comes up next month. "The reality is that if we go forward? we'll be caught up for years in litigation," said Councilmember Ash Kaira.

City employees gave Cogg a standing ovation when he spoke at the council meeting. The Wisconsin Democrat also suggested the fight could get even nastier.

"If the mayor and the City Council don't do the right thing, I say recall every single one of them," said Cogg.

"He's welcome to San Jose. We love to have visitors," said Reed. "Hope he spent a lot of money in the hotels."

The South Bay Labor Council paid for Cogg's trip and stay in San Jose.

The next big meeting on pension reform and analysis of the possible cost benefits that could be realized from that takes place on June 21. That is the same council meeting in which the council could declare a fiscal state of emergency which would force the issue to the November ballot.

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