San Diego mayor takes pension battle to Washington
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders took his campaign for pension reform to Washington on Monday, suggesting a June ballot measure in his city will influence governments nationwide struggling with spiraling pension costs.
The measure would put newly hired San Diego city employees, except for police, into a 401(k)-type plan rather than a traditional pension.
It also would end “pension spiking,” freeze pensionable salaries for five years and eliminate a pension for any employee convicted of a felony for at-work conduct. (An ex-San Diego police officer was just sentenced to eight years in prison, Sanders noted).
Public employee unions nationwide will pour money into the campaign to defeat the measure, Sanders told a gathering at the National Press Club.
“We know we’re in for a big battle,” said Sanders. “Labor is already trying to block it.”
If a 401(k)-style plan is adopted in San Diego, other governments will follow, Sanders said.
“We’ve been the guinea pig in this,” he said.
Sanders, a Republican and former police chief, was elected in 2005 in a special election to replace Mayor Dick Murphy, who resigned amid criticism of the city's underfunded pension program. Sanders was reelected in 2008 and is now termed out.
Sanders said he quickly realized the city could no longer afford “a gold-plated system for retiree pensions and health care.” Various steps have been taken: pay cuts, pay freezes, layoffs, and higher contributions from employees.
Pension changes have emerged as a top issue in the mayoral campaign to select Sanders’ successor. The two leading candidates have taken opposing views of Sanders' proposal: Republican Councilman Carl DiMaio supports it, and U.S. Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) opposes it.
--Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders in 2008. Credit: Nelvin Cepeda / Associated Press