By Luke Thomas
June 27, 2010
Former Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson to debate the merits of a controversial pension reform measure being proposed for the November ballot.
“I would love to have a debate with Paulson,” Gonzalez told FCJ on Saturday following a signature drive kickoff event for the measure. “If he wants to sit down and debate this issue publicly, or any issue in the City, I’ll do it.”
“The labor council wouldn’t win the debate,” Gonzalez added.
Gonzalez challenged the notion that the labor council is progressive, pointing out instances when it supported candidates like Amos Brown who put forward anti-poverty legislation and attacked the homeless. “They always put on the mantle of progressivism, but they don’t always deserve it,” he said.
The SF Smart Reform measure, sponsored by Public Defender Jeff Adachi and supported by Gonzalez, aims “to ensure that the City’s retirement and health service systems are properly funded and that the City’s annual costs are balanced with reasonable City employee contributions to their retirement and health plans,” according to the measure’s preamble. “The City’s cost of pension fund contributions and health insurance for active and retired employees has increased by 85 percent over the past five years, from $419 million in fiscal year 2004-2005 to a budgeted $776 million for fiscal year 2009-2010. These costs come at a time when the City is facing substantial budget deficits. In 2010, the City faced a $522 million budget shortfall, and is expected to face large deficits in coming years.”
Paulson and labor groups, including SEIU 1021, are vociferously opposed to the measure on the grounds that it is inequitable and regressive, saying it will hurt low-income working families.
“The problem is that Adachi’s measure does not distinguish between the school custodian who is making $30 thousand (per year) and the top brass,” SEIU organizer Gabriel Haaland said. “These folks can barely afford childcare, and forcing them to pay for the healthcare of their children literally takes food off their table. If Adachi had gone after top brass, it would be different. Instead, he went after low wage workers too.”
Adachi dismissed Haaland’s claim saying, “If you earn more, you pay more.” Moreover, he said, fiscal pressures to layoff employees as well as cuts to important city services will be eased if the electorate passes his pension reform measure. Assuming the measure qualifies for the November ballot and is passed by a simple majority of voters, $170 million will be saved in the first year alone, Adachi said.
Gonzalez challenged Paulson to a public debate upon learning Paulson blasted Adachi on his Facebook page calling Adachi an “embarrassment to San Francisco.”
Paulson declined to comment on Gonzalez’ invitation to debate the issue, saying instead, “It’s Adachi’s singular decision to act like Meg Whitman and unilaterally attack gardeners, nurses, firefighters and the lowest paid workers. Too bad Gonzalez is drinking the Kool-Aid, also.”
Adachi cited the bankruptcy filing by the City of Vallejo as an example of what could happen to the City and County of San Francisco if the City’s runaway pension expenditures are not reined in. “The City of Vallejo went bankrupt in part because they wouldn’t change their contribution rates,” he said.
Following a court intervention, City of Vallejo public safety employees are now required to contribute 13.5 percent of their gross salaries into their pension accounts. By comparison, Adachi’s measure would require San Francisco public employees to contribute between 9 and 10 percent of their gross salaries.
Without pension reform enacted, the City and County of San Francisco will eventually become insolvent, Adachi warned. To emphasize his point, Adachi said San Francisco’s current pension system provides up to 90 percent of an employee’s annual base salary upon retirement, for life. Forty percent of City employees are currently eligible for retirement.
“That train wreck is already here,” Adachi said.