Now what do we do about the pension plan?

Well, the city surplus has suddenly become a deficit, and you can expect a flood of letters blaming Carl DeMaio, Jerry Sanders and others who tried to mitigate the fiscal disaster that is the pension plan by making changes, but it’s best to remember who the real culprits are.

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First, you have the state Legislature, plus Gov. Jerry Brown, who, tin his first tenure more than 30 years ago, signed the enabling legislation for collective bargaining by California public employees, something Franklin Delano Roosevelt adamantly opposed because he was a very astute politician and foresaw the consequences: Politicians purchased by unions, with the public picking up the tab. Should anyone be surprised that, on average, state government employees make an average of more than $76,000 per year and can retire with full benefits 10 years before private sector employees?

Second, you have a former City Council and mayor who, in November 2002, approved Manager’s Proposal II, boosting pensions while underfunding them, instantly creating the current mess. Among this distinguished bunch were the following:

• Toni Atkins, now one of the leaders of the state Assembly;

• Scott Peters, elected last year to Congress;

• Brian Maienschein, elected last year to the state Assembly; and

• Jim Madaffer, elected shortly after he left office to president of the League of California Cities.

So, third, you have the voters, whose short memories allow career politicians to escape accountability for their poor decisions. These people, when they were faced a few years later with what they’d done, shrugged off their decision with the claim they’d been “misled by staff,” and the public bought this explanation. It’s our own fault we keep electing knaves, liars and fools.

Notice I don’t blame the unions; they did what unions are supposed to do. They got they best deal they could for their members. It’s not their responsibility to come up with the city’s contribution to the pension plan or point out the folly of what the city agreed to. It was, after all, not that different from what a lot of California cities, counties and even the state did. Too bad none of them could afford it, but the officials in charge knew the taxpayers had to make their commitments good.

What happens now? Well, the shortfall might give a boost to San Diego’s version of outsourcing, managed competition, but since the few functions that have been subject to this process have all been won by city employees under rules stacked in their favor, it’s not likely to make a difference for future pension contributions. And it has saved some money, but it’s not going to save enough to solve this problem.

The thing to do is to get as many employees off the payroll as fast as possible and keep them off, the sure way to limit the city’s liabilities. But how? By getting rid of things the city does but is not mandated to do. Let’s start with Mount Hope cemetery, the three golf courses and the two airports the city operates. Sell ‘em! That’ll generate a good amount of cash and get rid of things that chronically lose money. Then it’s time to look at other recreational facilities and maybe even sports stadiums. Identify everything that is not required by the city charter, and work to get rid of it.

Bill Bradshaw lives in Mission Beach.

Bradshaw’s commentary has been lightly edited for style, grammar and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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