OUR VIEW: Public pension reform, who will take it on?

1. Gilroy’s leaders failed to bring key issues to the ballot box

Gilroy squandered a golden opportunity during the Great Recession. Neither the current binding arbitration law on the books – which allows an outside-the-city attorney to decide contract disputes with police and firefighters on pay, benefits and working conditions – or any significant pension reform proposals were brought to the people for a vote.
None of our currrent political leaders or leading city institutions had the gumption to do what the city of San Jose’s mayor did.
Chuck Reed took the pension numbers and told the people in San Jose, in no uncertain  terms, the truth: that the city could not afford the current luxurious public employee retirement plans. Despite the predictable union reaction to anyone who dares to questions the current system – vitriolic criticism, character assasination and political shenanigans – he stuck to the message. The reform measure he championed, Measure B, passed June 5 with a whopping 70 percent of the vote.

2. The astronomical increase in the numbers tell a worrisome story

The numbers do not lie: San Jose’s pension costs were $73 million in 2001 and ballooned to an unfathomable $245 million this year. That takes money from other city services like recreation to street repair to police and fire services. The pension costs, are directly related to the services a city can offer.
It’s a Gilroy issue, and an issue nationwide, too. The unfunded pension liabilities are astronomical, on paper, and there will come a day of hellashish reckoning unless reforms are instituted now.
A recent Time magazine article pointedly issued the facts: “In California, total pension liabilities – the money the state is legally required to pay its public-sector retirees – are 30 times its annual budget deficit. Annual pension costs rose by 2,000% from 1999 to 2009. In Illinois, they are already 15% of general revenue and growing. Ohio’s pension liabilities are now 35% of the state’s entire GDP.
Gilroy can’t do much about Ohio, but it can recognize the current insanity and do something about it.

3. Every candidate should be questioned about reforms

Every candidate for City Council and mayor in November should be repeatedly and pointedly asked about public employee pension reform and the current binding arbitration law. If they’re content with the status quo, it’s merely a politician who’s unwilling to do what’s right for this community and this country.
The public employee pension fiasco has to be arm wrestled to the ground.
Which candidates are committed enough and stong enough to do what’s right for Gilroy’s future and propose ballot reform measures? It should be a key question for Gilroy voters this November.

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