When it comes to public employee pension reform, San Diego’s city management needs to take a lesson from the U.S. Marine Corps and lead by example.
Let me explain. The pension initiative on the June ballot is an absolutely vital reform to put our city on a long-term path to fiscal health. With $2.1 billion in debt promised to current and past city employees, but no funding stream to pay for it, our pension obligations are cutting into funding for basic government services such as road repairs and maintenance of parks. The reforms being put before voters — asking city employees to pay a greater portion of their own pensions, capping the amount of an employee’s salary that counts toward a pension, and transitioning from defined benefit to defined contribution plans — are all the right thing to do. But there is more we can do.
As mayor, I will take pension reform even further.
In the Marine Corps, the commanding officer leads by example, never asking the troops to perform a task he or she is not willing to also perform. In this way, the commanding officer sets the standard and defines the culture for the entire organization. I will bring that same type of leadership to city hall, applying pension and compensation reforms at the top first. It is within the mayor’s executive authority to implement pension reform for city management, and under my watch, it would happen on Day One.
There are 720 city management employees who are not represented by a labor union, and are directly accountable to the Mayor. They represent more than $64 million in annual salaries. Working with the City Council, I will:
- Put an end to six-figure pension payouts, capping the pensionable pay of management employees at $99,999.
- Immediately reduce management compensation by 10 percent and freeze base compensation for five years. I’m the only candidate for Mayor of San Diego who has taken a pay cut during the last few years. This change will save millions of dollars we can reinvest in rebuilding our city and also set a tone that the leaders at the top are willing to sacrifice.
- End illogical overtime rules that allow management employees to abuse the system and get paid for time not worked.
- Implement the cornerstone of the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative by putting management employees into the new 401k/defined contribution system immediately.
Together, these changes will save the city at least $6.5 million each year.
More importantly, these changes will send a clear signal to city labor unions and the broader publics that my administration is serious about pension reform and willing to make the same sacrifices we ask of city employees.
That’s critical because San Diego’s next mayor will have to negotiate with labor groups to fully implement the comprehensive pension reform initiative. The pension reform on the June ballot is a great start. But we need more than a ballot initiative and a mayor with a white-paper plan. We need a leader who can get things done and who can set a new standard for our city and for coming generations of San Diegans.