Voters sent a clear message Tuesday to their local leaders: get your financial houses in order. Don't ask for more money until you start responsibly spending what we've already given you. We're tired of losing public services as you siphon off our tax money to pay mounting costs of overly generous public-employee retirement benefits.
Nowhere in the East Bay was that message clearer than the city of Alameda and the East Contra Costa Fire District, two very different public agencies that were both asking for more money, but had yet to address their badly underfunded pension systems. Voters resoundingly rejected both measures.
Nowhere in the state was that message clearer than San Jose, where voters overwhelmingly approved a pension reform plan that will force city employees to pay more toward their pensions or accept reduced retirement benefit accruals in the future.
San Jose voters are tired of closed libraries, streets pocked with potholes and neighborhoods unnerved by upswings in gang violence. They've watched the cost of employee pensions triple over the past decade while the number of city employees providing public services plunged.
San Jose's plight is not unique. Indeed, it has become the new normal for local governments across the state. But San Jose residents benefit from an unusual charter provision that makes it legally easier to impose changes on current employees.
Thus, while the city has become a poster
East Bay voters sent a similar message. They did not flatly reject new taxes. When a legitimate need was demonstrated and meaningful efforts had been made to control costs, voters were generally supportive.
That was true in the Dublin and Hayward school districts, as well as the cities of Hercules, San Pablo and Pittsburg. Conversely, Alameda and east Contra Costa voters definitively rejected new taxes -- and with good reason.
In Alameda, leaders wanted to add a half-cent sales tax levy for 30 years to raise money for capital projects, but the proposal did nothing to address the city's staggering $285 million debt for unfunded retirement benefits. That's equal to four years of general fund revenues.
The East Contra Costa Fire District proposed the East Bay's most irresponsible tax plan on Tuesday's ballot. The 10-year levy, starting at $197 per parcel annually, would have more than doubled the district's revenues. And it would have all gone to increased services, keeping more stations open and adding costly paramedics to every fire engine.
But it would have done nothing to address the district's ballooning retirement debt. Within a decade, the district will be spending far more on retirement benefits than on salaries. The tax proposal ignored that; indeed, it would have exacerbated the problem.
Voters demonstrated that they are willing to tax themselves when local leaders make reasonable proposals. But they're unwilling to continue digging the financial hole deeper.