Pension watchdogs warn Prop B reforms could be scuttled

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) –  A group of pension reform advocates has warned that San Diego’s City Council may try to invalidate the reforms approved by San Diego voters in 2012.

Former San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who crafted the measure known as Prop B asked voters to stop city leaders from removing the changes made possible through the initiative. Prop B which was passed by 65 percent of the voters brought an end to the old pension system which paid out defined benefits and began to switch city employees to 401K retirement accounts.

DeMaio said citizens should be aware that the San Diego City Council is preparing for a vote in closed session in two weeks, that could result in tossing out the pension reforms. The issue has been brought to the Council, after a legal challenge by the city’s public labor unions who contend that Mayor Jerry Sanders acted improperly in his office as mayor when he endorsed the ballot measure in 2012. DeMaio said there were good reasons for throwing out the old pension system, and cited the unsustainable burden on taxpayers.

“This is a bill that taxpayers will pay year after year after year; with higher taxes, higher water bills, and less services,” DeMaio said.

Councilmember Scott Sherman said the City is still forking out about $350 million annually to pay down its pension debt. The councilmember said the annual payments should decline in about 10 years, freeing up that money for other uses by the City.

According to a survey commissioned by Reform California and other groups, 62% of San Diego voters said city employees should be enrolled in a 401K plan instead of receiving defined benefits. If City Council does vote to change course on pension reform, DeMaio said he’ll be ready to pursue the fight in court.

“They’re not expecting citizens to step forward and hire lawyers and say, ‘fine, we’ll defend Proposition B,’ – well, they have another thing coming to them,” DeMaio said.

The president of the Municipal Employees Association said all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court and a federal appeals court have taken the side of the public employee unions, in saying that Mayor Sanders and the City violated a provision of a collective bargaining law when they put Prop B on the ballot in 2012.

“It is time for the city and its citizens to move forward by ending the Prop B debacle with the least amount of additional litigation and expense,” said MEA president Michael Zucchet.

The labor leader said given the stance of multiple courts, the City has only one path forward, which is to join in the legal process and remove Prop B from the City Charter.

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