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With less than six days until the June 3 primary election, politics continue to dominate the discourse surrounding Mayor Jerry Sanders’ pension proposal for future City Hall employees.  

Although Sanders announced a plan today that differed from other previously considered alternatives, the unions and City Attorney Mike Aguirre today went beyond attacking the proposal’s specifics to criticizing the general manner in which the mayor has handled pension reform in the last few weeks.  

“I think that the mayor’s plan is not really pension reform, it’s pension politics,” said Aguirre, who is up for reelection himself. “[This] is a strong mayor form of government, you’re not supposed to have to punt pension reform to the public. Getting a public vote on pension reform really adds nothing more but an additional burden to the public.” 

According to the unions, the mayor has not made any efforts to negotiate or sit down with them since negotiations stalled three weeks ago, while the mayor maintains they still have nothing to even negotiate about and are at legal “impasse.” Aguirre today said that both sides are stalling for their own reasons, with the unions wanting to keep the status quo and simply “paying lip service” to negotiations, and the mayor wanting to appear active on the pension issue by not negotiating with the unions and taking his pension proposal to voters.  

Aguirre also blamed Council President Scott Peters for not placing the white collar union’s pension proposal on the City Council docket for a revote. At the end of a marathon City Council hearing two weeks ago, the mayor replaced his own pension proposal with the union’s pension plan, but the council still rejected the proposal with a 4-4 vote.  

If applied to all current non-public safety employees today, the mayor’s ballot proposal would save the city $25.1 million, compared to his old proposal, which saved the city $22.3 million under the same circumstances. The additional $2.8 million partly comes from a scaling back of defined contribution rates and an increase of defined benefit rates, compared to the mayor’s original pension proposal, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said.  

The mayor’s plan would cover all non-public safety employees who join the city after July 1, 2009.

“My plan [is] the kind of reform that I promised voters that I would bring to city government,” Sanders said. “It’s also the kind of forward-thinking and progressive reform that will distinguish San Diego on a national front as a city that successfully curbed its runaway pension costs and got itself back on stable financial footing.”

Municipal Employees Association General Manager Judie Italiano said the mayor is engaging in political posturing, but that after “the hype of the election” she hopes the council will refuse to put the pension initiative on the ballot unless the mayor returns to the negotiating table with the unions.  

Aguirre had a different projection for the July council vote, saying it is highly unlikely that the council will approve the mayor’s ballot initiative due to the influence of labor interests.  

“The likelihood that that will be on the ballot is remote, because the same unions are going to be doing the same thing in the future,” he said. “They’ve already shown that they can control four votes on the council.” 

— LEA YU

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