Our View: Lawmakers thwart pension reform votes
The union-dominated California Legislature still hasn't acknowledged the message: Voters want reform of public-employee pensions. Local reform measures passed overwhelmingly June 5, with 66 percent of the vote in San Diego and a 70 percent win in San Jose.
But leaders in the Legislature are cooking up "reforms" that would make a mockery of voters' clear preference. Reported the UT San Diego: "Legislative Democrats are exploring whether they can politically and legally override local pension reforms enacted by voters.
"San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders sounded the alarm in a confidential letter sent this week to Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles."
Mr. Sanders' letter explained, "As a charter city, it is our right and our duty to ensure that our fiscal house is in order." In California, charter city law, as described by the League of California Cities, "allows voters to determine how their city government is organized and, with respect to municipal affairs, enact legislation different than that adopted by the state."
Many other municipalities are general-law cities, which are organized under state law and have much less leeway in how they operate. Charter cities can be enacted by a vote of the city's residents. Charters usually operate in larger cities, such as Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Santa Ana in Orange County.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, confirmed discussions have been open to pre-emption of local measures."
"I'm not surprised," said Marcia Fritz, the president of Californians for Fiscal Responsibility, which works for pension reform. She said even if the Legislature is successful in changing state law for general-law cities, "if they're trying to overturn a charter city's reform, they'll have a longer way to go."
She also has other plans. "More cities are looking to be charter cities" to be able to enact pension reforms. "And legal decisions around the country uphold such reforms. We are looking at giving cities an organizational tool to take advantage of these decisions in others states.
"We are going to hold more workshops to duplicate the reforms in other cities," Fritz said.
The Legislature so far has not enacted any pension reform, even Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed modest 12-point plan.
Some good news came last week in a state Supreme Court ruling concerning Vista. In 2007, voters converted Vista from a general-law city to a charter city. After the conversion, the City Council voted to ban "prevailing wages," a term for high union wage scales that must be paid even for nonunion city contracts. Previously, as a general-law city, Vista was required to follow state law mandating prevailing wages. The court ruling allowed the switch.
As the Orange County Register reported, that ruling has direct application to Costa Mesa, which is considering putting a charter before voters in November. If a cancellation of the prevailing-wage mandate is included in the charter, Councilman Jim Righeimer said, it could save city taxpayers 20 percent on projects.
Of pension reform in general, Fritz said, "They can't stop this."