Prop B would force SF pension reform


San Francisco voters will be asked to weigh in on Proposition B. If passed it would make city workers pay more for their health care and pensions.

"We're spending a billion dollars on city employee pensions and health care costs at a time where we have a half billion dollar deficit," Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

Adachi wrote the initiative, and got it on the November ballot.

"It doesn't take away anyone's pension, it doesn't cut anyone's healthcare, it just requires city employees to contribute towards these generous pensions, guaranteed pensions that they get and free health care," Adachi said.

Providing health care for San Francisco employees and their families will cost taxpayers about $169 million this year.

According to the city controller, San Francisco pays between $481 and $660 per employee per month for health care insurance, plus another $132 for dental.

Under Prop B, the city would pay no more than half the cost of medical and 75 percent of dental. Employees would chip in the difference.

Labor leaders and city workers say Prop B unfairly burdens families and single parent households.

"If you are first year firefighter just starting a family, you'll see your healthcare costs go up from $3,000-$5,000 in just one year alone," San Francisco Firefighters Union spokesperson Thomas O'Connor said.

But, healthcare will not be the only added expense tagged on to city workers paychecks. If Prop B passes they will also have to contribute more to their pensions.

Currently, most city employees chip in 7.5 percent of their salary to fund their pension. That percentage would go up to 10 percent for most employees and 9 percent for police officers and firefighters.

Labor leaders say they have already taken pay cuts and made other concessions. They believe Prop B will further erode deals they have already made with the city.

"We just find that categorically unfair to our members and to city workers as a whole who have given back so often in the past and just this year gave back 5 percent of their pay to help out the city budget," O'Connor said.

This is not just a San Francisco problem. Nearly every city and county around the state is struggling with the rising public employee pension and health care costs. Instead of funding city services, taxes are going to city workers and retirees. The city of Vallejo blames the rising costs for pushing it into bankruptcy.

"I would say it is the No. 1 problem facing the state for the next three or four years," ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain said.

Cain says many cities are likely watching Prop B closely because, if it can pass in a liberal, pro-union city like San Francisco, it could be a sign of pension reform to come.

The measure has split many former political allies as well. Former mayor and state legislator Willie Brown served on the state pension board. He says public employee pension reform needs to be addressed.

"You better pay some attention to it otherwise you are going to end up like Vallejo where they are literally in bankruptcy problems or you're going to end up like Oakland laying off police officers," Brown said.

Current San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom says city leaders are well aware there is a problem and have been working with city unions to reach compromises.

"None of us are satisfied that we are there in terms of a solution, but this is not the way to do it, to come down on top in the middle of a process that has already proven to be successful and dictate the terms, particularly the health care components of it really hurt," Newsom said.

Now it is voters who will have the final say. Their ballots will carry a strong message to politicians around the state -- deal with the rising costs themselves or taxpayers will make the decision for them.

According to the California HealthCare Foundation, the total contribution from an employer and employee combined in the private sector is $428 per employee and just over $1,100 for a family. The amount paid by the employees varies from company to company. The average city worker pays just $175 per month. Under Prop B they would pay about $381.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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