I had some calls last week on the topic of pensions and the June ballot measure. Several people were under the impression that San Jose will eliminate pensions altogether, which is not the case. Other callers wanted toreplace the current system with a 401K-type benefit.
One person was against any change to the pension system, even for new employees. They felt that the role of government is to provide well-paying jobs. When I asked what alternative there might be to pension reform, the suggestion was to raise taxes. The caller shared that the city should lay off city employees to “force” residents to vote in favor of raising taxes. If the city were to adopt this scenario, we may choose to outsource those services that are no longer being provided by the former employees, not to mention, city employees would lose 100 percent of their income and residents would probably get less city services.
I think there are other options to pension reform that would save San Jose money. For example, getting out of the golf business, selling the Hayes Mansion—in fact, selling any city asset where there is a significant financial offer like the Convention Center, Mexican Heritage Plaza and parking garages. We could eliminate spending on all items not in the City Charter and outsource park maintenance at large parks.
Perhaps we should also consider following the lead of every other city in the county, which is switching from four to three fire fighters on a fire engine. However, I would suggest only the fire stations that have lower call volumes. An extra person on a fire engine, each shift, is equal to at least three police officers or many more code enforcement personnel.
Perhaps even consolidating city departments with the county to oversee, for example, the libraries would eliminate layers of management. It might take all of these items and more to add up to the costs savings with pension reform, but there are other options. Alas, if only labor negotiations were public rather than private. Perhaps then all of this would be on the table and a stronger voice for employees and residents could have been part of the discussion.
Incidentally, I asked the caller about several of the trade-offs listed above and they were against these as well. Que sera, sera …