Pension Battle Shifts to San Jose, San Bernardino, Stockton
Now that a federal judge in Michigan has properly ruled pension obligations are not sacrosanct (see Lesson for Union Dinosaurs) the spotlight is once again on union dinosaurs in California.
Bankrupt San Bernardino foolishly did not attempt to shed pension obligations in bankruptcy, but perhaps it can now reconsider.
What about Stockton and Vallejo?
On April 1, 2013 Judge Rules Stockton CA Bankruptcy is Valid, City Acted in Good Faith. Hopefully Stockton will follow inevitable pension cuts in Detroit.
Second Chance for Vallejo
Vallejo had a golden opportunity to shed pension obligations in its first bankruptcy. When the city failed to do so, I made an easy prediction: Within years, Vallejo would be back in bankruptcy court.
That prediction appears well-founded. On October 20, 2013 I penned Vallejo, Mired in Pension Debt Again; Lesson for Stockton and Detroit – Shed Those Pension Obligations Now!
My comment from above: “Stockton and Detroit have a choice. They can cut pensions now, or cut them later in a second bankruptcy, just like Vallejo will.”
Will Stockton get it right? Hopefully, but some things will depend on Detroit. We have not yet seen the final ruling, but steep haircuts on pension promises and unsecured general bonds should be forthcoming.
Battle in San Jose
The battle in San Jose, population 983,000 and California’s third-largest city, is of a similar nature.
San Jose spends 33% of its general fund revenue on pensions, the highest among the 25 most populous U.S. cities.
Mayor Chuck Reed wants to make changes to the pension plan. Specifically, Reed, a 65-year-old Democrat, is leading a statewide voter initiative to allow changes in future benefits for existing employees.
Union Dinosaurs Part II
Of course union dinosaurs are fighting the initiative, which means unions would rather see San Jose go bankrupt than negotiate.
Bloomberg reports San Jose Pension Crush Spurs Bid to Ease California Pacts.
San Jose, a city of 983,000 that is California’s third-largest, has been forced to make deep cuts in basic services as its retirement costs soared to $245 million in 2012 from $73 million in 2002. The city’s pension and retiree health-care liability is almost $3 billion, according to Reed, who was first elected in 2006.
San Jose voters last year approved retirement changes requiring new employees to pay 50 percent of the plan’s total cost, or about twice as much as current employees. Workers already on the city’s payroll could keep their existing plans by increasing their contributions or keep their costs steady by choosing a plan with more modest benefits.
Unions including the San Jose Police Officers’ Association and the San Jose Retired Employees Association sued to block the change. The case is pending.
Reed’s ballot initiative would amend the California constitution to give local governments the power to negotiate changes to existing employees’ future pension or retiree health care, while protecting benefits they’ve already earned.
“What they’re trying to do is overturn decades of case law, Supreme Court decisions and change the California constitution to allow public employers to either change, cut or eliminate public employees’ pensions in the middle of their career,” said Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association and chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of public employees and retirees.
“It’s a vested right,” Low said.
“In talking with other mayors around the state, everybody would benefit from having clear authority to be able to negotiate changes for future benefits for work yet to be performed for current employees,” Reed said of his ballot measure.
Mayors Pat Morris of bankrupt San Bernardino, Tom Tait of Anaheim and Bill Kampe of Pacific Grove are backing the plan. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido dropped out as a formal supporter and was replaced by Vallejo Vice Mayor Stephanie Gomes. Opponents include Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu.
Also assailing the plan are the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest U.S. public pension, and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the second-biggest U.S. public pension contending with a $70 billion unfunded liability.
The proposal “threatens the retirement security of existing and future educators, who have provided many years of service to California’s students,” Jack Ehnes, the teacher pension’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
Reed said cities can continue to cut services and raise taxes, make employees pay more, cut benefit payments to retirees or cut benefits for current employees.
“None of those is fair, so it is better to talk about changing expectations of future accruals for future work,” Reed said.
CalPERS, Oakland Mayor Against Reed’s Plan
It’s not yet official, but Oakland is as bankrupt as bankrupt can be. Why its mayor would not want to back Reed’s initiative has three possibilities: reelection motives, sheer stupidity, or to preserve her own ill-gotten pension.
Rights of Dinosaurs vs. “Right Thing”
Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association and chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, a coalition of public employees and retirees, whines “It’s a vested right“.
Low can whine all he wants, but bankruptcy is a “right” as well. And rights in bankruptcy overrule alleged rights of unions.
Speaking of which, those alleged rights were primarily obtained via a process of coercion, threats, bribery, and back-room deals with crooked politicians willing to give unions what unions want so the politicians can get elected.
What’s “right” about that?
From a taxpayer perspective, the “right thing” to do is end collective bargaining of all public unions, after-which public unions, like dinosaurs, will become rightfully extinct.
About the Author: Mike Shedlock is the editor of the top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, offering insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education.