We applaud the four members of the San Luis Obispo City Council who voted to move forward with a vote on the repeal of binding arbitration for police and firefighters.
Mayor Jan Marx deserves a double round of applause for reversing her earlier stance and supporting the decision to put binding arbitration on the ballot.
While a unanimous vote would have been an even stronger statement, we respect Councilman John Ashbaugh — who cast the only dissenting vote — for wanting to fix the binding arbitration process, rather than abandon it altogether.
However, we believe there is something fundamentally flawed about a system that takes decision-making power out of the hands of local elected officials and gives it to an outside arbiter.
We already saw what happened in 2008, when an arbiter awarded police officers a 30 percent raise and dispatchers a 37 percent raise over four years. That cost the city an additional $4 million in 2008-09. It continues to cost an additional $2.5 million annually, making it increasingly difficult for the city to fund its many other departments and programs.
Now that we’ve seen the effects of binding arbitration on the city budget, it makes sense to allow voters to re-evaluate the process and weigh in on whether it’s still right for San Luis Obispo.
That’s what this election is about it.
Here’s what it’s not about:
Curing — or not curing — the gross salary inequities in American society
Some argue that public safety workers in San Luis Obispo don’t really earn so much — especially when you consider what Wall Streeters, pro athletes and Hollywood actors earn. You won’t hear us defend the practice of paying millions of dollars to men who toss balls through hoops. But those are not public servants. We do not pay their salaries and we do not get to vote on how much LeBron James should earn.
Revamping the income and corporate tax structures
Yes, government at every level would have more money if tax breaks and loopholes were repealed. But that’s under the purview of national and state governments — not the city of San Luis Obispo.
The city of San Luis Obispo is not the Wisconsin statehouse. No one is questioning the right of employees to engage in collective bargaining.
Katie Lichtig’s salary
Yes, the city manager is well paid. But she is one person, and reducing her salary is not going to solve the city’s budget crisis.
Above all, this is not a referendum on the performance of police and firefighters or on the importance of their professions.
No one disputes the fact that police officers and firefighters provide an essential service, at considerable risk to their own safety. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, in addition to decent wages and benefits.
However, when those wages and benefits become so generous that they drain the city budget to the point that it compromises the many other services a municipality must provide — water, sewer, street maintenance, flood control, planning, libraries, parks and recreation — something is seriously wrong.
And when police officers in San Luis Obispo earn more than police officers in urban areas such as Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, it’s time to reassess.
It’s time to have a civil public discussion — culminating in a vote — on whether San Luis Obispo can continue to afford binding arbitration.