We are writing to urge San Luis Obispo city residents to vote YES on Measures A and B, the only items on the ballot in August’s special mail-only election.
Measures A and B represent fair common-sense efforts to restore local control and fiscal responsibility to our city budget.
Measures A and B will lead to badly needed pension reform and reasonable pay for city police and firefighters.
If approved, the measures will restore to City Council its rightful authority to decide how our local tax dollars are spent. With a prudent budget, council can avoid further cuts in city services.
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Opponents of Measures A and B claim these measures will lead to fewer police and firefighters and — incredibly — that “people will die” as a result. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s only if the city doesn’t gain control of pay and benefits that public safety staffing would be jeopardized.
Measure A will allow council to negotiate reduced pension benefits for new employees and implement these money-saving changes quicklyPension costs are skyrocketing. Since 2002, annual costs have risen from $1.8 million to $8.3 million. Without any changes, annual pension costs will exceed $10 million within five years and consume 20 percent of the city budget.
City employees enjoy benefits unheard of in the private sector. A San Luis Obispo police officer can retire at age 50 after 30 years of service and receive a pension of $93,000 a year or more. A firefighter can retire at age 50 and receive a pension of $70,000 a year or more. All other city employees can retire at age 55 after 30 years of service and receive an annual pension of 81 percent of their final pay. Fifteen retired city employees now receive pensions of over $100,000 a year.
Measure B will repeal mandatory binding arbitration, an exorbitant way to settle pay disputes between the city and its public safety unions. Binding arbitration is a key factor in the city’s current budget crisis.
We are grateful to our police and firefighters for their dedication and professionalism. We fully support fair labor negotiations. But binding arbitration is inherently unfair, undemocratic and financially unsustainable.
Binding arbitration is not mediation. An arbitrator is not allowed to forge a compromise but instead must pick one side’s proposal over the other without any change.
In 2008, an out-of-town arbitrator awarded police pay raises of 30 percent to 57 percent over four years at a time when inflation was just 11 percent. As a result, San Luis Obispo police are now paid more than Los Angeles police, a fact confirmed by the State Controller’s website.
The arbitration award cost the city $4 million in its first year. To balance the budget, city council had to make cuts in street and sidewalk repairs, flood protection, parks and open space projects, even police protection.
That 2008 award continues to cost the city $2.5 million each year, more than half the city’s current annual $4.4 million deficit.
The bottom line on binding arbitration is clear: An unaccountable outsider, whose decision cannot be overturned, produces unaffordable pay increases for some and cutbacks in services for all.
If citizens don’t like the decisions city council makes, citizens can vote council members out of office. You can’t do that with an out-of-town arbitrator.
Measures A and B are fair common-sense reforms. Together, they offer an opportunity for taxpayers to restore local control and fiscal responsibility to San Luis Obispo.
Please look for your ballot in the mailbox after Aug. 1 and vote “yes” on Measures A and B.
Lauren Brown, John Ewan and April Strong are co-chairs of the San Luis Obispo Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.