June 29 2011 10:14 AM

Signature gatherers are selling voters a whole lotta hooey


Though both are still in the signature-gathering phase, fans and foes of two proposed local ballot measures are already calling each other out for making false claims. We'll handle those claims should the measures make it to the ballot, but, for now, we're looking at how signature gatherers are selling the measures to voters.

We obtained video footage from a group that opposes both measures (you can see some of it below) and also chatted up signature gatherers on our own. Verdict: there's a lot of wrong information being pedaled. Maybe it's because these are tough issues, but in at least one instance, a signature gatherer said he was just repeating what he'd been told to say. 

Comprehensive Pension Reform

This initiative would put newly hired San Diego municipal employees—except police officers—into a 401(k)-style retirement plan. For five years, it would freeze worker pay and use only base pay (aka "pensionable pay") to determine an employee's retirement benefits.

"We're trying to make city employees
other than police and fire pay into their
own pensions."
In order to appease City Councilmember Carl DeMaio, who wanted to put all city employees into a 401(k)-style plan, Mayor Jerry Sanders (a former police chief) agreed to a compromise: Cops will remain in the city's pension plan but firefighters won't.

"Right now, [taxpayers] are funding 100 percent [of an employee's pension]."
All city employees contribute to their pensions—general employees contribute anywhere from 3.3 percent to 12 percent of each paycheck, depending on date-of-hire, while some fire fighters and police officers contribute as much as 19.9 percent. The city currently "picks up" a small portion of this payment for lifeguards and white-collar workers, but, says Vladimir Kogan, a UCSD doctoral student who's working on a book about San Diego's fiscal crisis, "the entire ‘pick up' issue is a red herring….  There is a reason why the city chose to ‘pick up' its employees contributions in previous years: It saved taxpayers money, because, unlike pay raises, the ‘pick up' is not taxed as income, so the employees were willing to forgo significantly larger pay increases in exchange for the pension benefit."
"They want to create a 401(k) rule where
[the city is] contributing only 50 percent
and use the other 50 percent to revive some
of the services that we're losing, like the
libraries and parks."
As voiceofsandiego.org's Liam Dillon reported, an analysis by the city's retirement system showed that switching new employees to a 401(k) plan would cost the city $94 million over the next six years. Except for the pay freeze, there's nothing in the ballot measure that would immediately free up any money or reduce the amount the city's currently required to pay into its pension plan, which has suffered from a combination of poor market performance and intentional underfunding by past city leaders. "It's the five-year freeze on pensionable pay that produces all of the savings," Kogan says, "and would actually produce more savings over the short term if you did a five-year freeze with the existing pension system rather than switching to a 401(k)." Problem is, opponents of the measure have questioned whether the pay-freeze provision is even legal.

Fair and Open Competition in City Contracting

This would ban so-called "project-labor agreements" that set pay, benefits and other terms (like requiring that contractors hire locally) for large-scale public-works projects. PLAs are rare—in fact, no one can recall the city ever entering into one—but conservatives have increasingly focused on getting rid of them because they usually require contractors to abide by labor-union rules.

"Have you signed the one to fix your potholes?"
The only time you'll see a project-labor agreement is
on large projects. So, no, this won't fix your potholes.
"They want non-unions to bid with public unions on any type of road work or anything like that… any type of public service so that we can get it done at a cheaper deal."
"As far as any of us can remember, we don't have any project-labor agreements when it comes to street work," says Bill Harris, spokesperson for the city's transportation department. PLAs don't limit who can bid on a project—both union and non-union companies can submit bids. And, as for the "cheaper deal," there's no definitive evidence showing that projects done under a PLA cost more.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the city entered into a PLA for Petco Park's construction. While the stadium was built under a project-labor agreement, the agreement was with a private developer and not the city.


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