After announcing a 2014 statewide pension ballot initiative with fellow mayors from around California, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has run into some opposition -- from other mayors.
Nineteen mayors -- along with two vice mayors, two county board of supervisors presidents and five additional council members -- signed a letter to Reed on Tuesday urging him to abandon his effort that would see public employees pay more for their retirement.
Many of the opponents are labor-backed Democrats from small towns, and several of them are relying on donations and support from public employee unions as they run for re-election or higher office.
Leading the list are Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. They were joined by top officials from three cities neighboring San Jose: Campbell Mayor Evan Low, Sunnyvale Mayor Tony Spitaleri and Cupertino Vice Mayor Gilbert Wong. Mayors from San Mateo, Millbrae, Richmond, Alameda and Santa Rosa also opposed Reed's measure.
It comes after Reed proposed the initiative last month with the help of four other California mayors, including Anaheim's Tom Tait. One of the supporters, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, has since dropped out as a formal supporter and been replaced by Vallejo Vice Mayor Stephanie Gomes.
In the middle are mayors from more than 400 other California cities who have not voiced their opinion on the measure.
Tentatively set for the November 2014 ballot, Reed's initiative would give California cities and other public agencies power to negotiate changes to existing employees' retirement benefits. Employees would keep the benefits they had earned up until their contract changes but could see reduced benefits going forward.
Reed and other supporters say the changes are needed to stop the sharp rise of pension costs that have crippled taxpayer-funded public budgets. Last year, Reed won overwhelming San Jose voter support for Measure B, to trim city workers' future retirement benefits, but employee unions sued to block it. They argue that California court decisions suggest that once employees are hired, their pension benefits can never be reduced, even in future years, something Reed's statewide initiative would change. The Legislature also approved pension reforms last year, though mostly for new hires.
But critics led by public employee unions say cities and the state of California have already done plenty to cut back pensions and that voters should not get involved in an issue best decided at the bargaining table.
"We believe that engaging our public servants in construction (sic) dialogue rather than political battles is a more effective way of achieving balancing (sic) budgets," read the opponents' letter, which contained several typos.
Reed disagreed with the opponents' characterization of the measure and said he'd "be happy to sit down with these leaders to explain exactly what our initiative does."
"I wholeheartedly agree that pension matters should be decided locally -- and that's exactly what our initiative would empower local governments to do," Reed said in a statement.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.