OC Register Profiles Carl DeMaio's Pension Reform Efforts
Orange County Register
March 5, 2013
Pension reform fight reaching the courts
San Diego’s law attacked by union; Brown wants state reforms defended.
How much influence can public-employee unions exercise in opposition to decisions made by the voters? That's what California courts figure eventually to wrestle with concerning San Diego's Proposition B, a pension reform measure passed by voters in June. A recent development comes from the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Reported Fox 5 San Diego, "PERB Administrative Law Judge Donn Ginoza ruled ... that the city failed to negotiate in good faith with its public employee unions before Prop. B was placed on the ballot. The decision ... is not binding on the city but does set up a future court battle."
The good news is that pension reform can proceed for now in America's eighth-largest city. Prop. B moves new city workers to 401(k) pension plans, similar to what many private-sector workers have, and away from pension plans guaranteed by taxpayers. According to Ballotpedia, Prop. B is projected to save America's Finest City $141 million over five years and up to $1.6 billion over 28 years.
"We absolutely expected the PERB action," Carl DeMaio told us; now a senior fellow at the Reason Foundation, he was the principal author of Prop. B while on the San Diego City Council from 2008-12. "The PERB board made an unfair internal decision. It's dominated by labor unions. Now, PERB must go to court and get a judge's order to block the pension reform. I don't see any judge doing that."
A statement from the San Diego Municipal Employees Association characterized Judge Ginoza's decision Feb. 11 as a "complete victory" for the union. "The ruling stems from MEA's allegations that the city had a duty to meet and confer with employees before putting the CPR measure on the June 2012 ballot."
Mr. DeMaio retorted, "The claim is newsworthy because the union is claiming they have a veto power over the initiative process." He said initiative procedures were scrupulously followed, with 50,000 signatures gathered to put Prop. B on the ballot. And Prop. B passed with a hefty 66 percent of the vote. "Hiram Johnson is rolling over in his grave," Mr. DeMaio said, in reference to California's reform governor (1911-17) who pushed the enactment of the state's initiative, referendum and recall processes.
Finally, there is a positive note concerning the state employees' pension reform enacted in August by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. We thought its projected $80 billion in savings was inadequate in the light of estimated unfunded liabilities of up to $500 billion, but at least it was something.
The Sacramento Bee reported last month that "Gov. Jerry Brown has asked Attorney General Kamala Harris to defend California's new public pension law from lawsuits filed by employee unions in at least four counties." That means Gov. Brown and Ms. Harris, who have been strongly backed by the unions, are taking on those same unions over pension reform.
The bottom line for both San Diego and California is that battle has been engaged in the courts to ensure that these reforms advance and public treasuries are not placed at further risk because of pensions.