Dueling Pension Reform Measures Dominate Voter Handbook

by Paul Hogarth on August 29, 2011

San Francisco voters will receive their ballot pamphlets in a few weeks, and this year they are asked to vote on seven local propositions (A-G.) But the vast majority of their time will be spent on just two of them – Propositions C and D, which offer different solutions to the City’s pension crisis. Both measures have by far the largest number of paid ballot arguments – and with Public Defender Jeff Adachi now running for Mayor, voters will get inundated with information on what is a highly complicated issue. Elsewhere on the ballot, voters will be asked to weigh in on a school bond (Prop A) and a street bond (Prop B), two propositions (E & F) that are billed as “good-government” measures, a Sales Tax (Prop G) and a policy statement on neighborhood schools (Prop H.) The following is a BeyondChron analysis of the ballot arguments in this election’s voter handbook, what political players are on which side of each proposition, and what arguments you can expect to hear on the campaign trail …

Prop C vs. Prop D Will Occupy Vast Majority of Voters’ Time

By far the most controversial measures on the ballot are the two Charter Amendments dealing with pension reform. Proposition C is the so-called “City family” measure supported by most of City Hall, whereas Proposition D is Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s alternative. Prop C has 10 paid ballot arguments in favor, and 11 paid arguments against – whereas Prop D has 14 paid arguments in favor, and 14 against.

Prop C supporters are campaigning as the consensus proposal that has a wide swath of support. Mayor Ed Lee, all 11 Supervisors, SF Chamber of Commerce, Labor Council, Police Officers union, the SF Firefighters and Dennis Kelly of the Teachers Union all signed the official “yes” ballot argument – calling it a “comprehensive plan that will fix the City’s broken pension and health benefit system and save $1.3 billion over 10 years.”

In a paid ballot argument, the Presidents of three City Commissions (Planning, Police and Port) say Prop C is “an example of what happens when the need for reform becomes so great that it unites a city across every spectrum.” In a paid argument, the Labor Council says that City workers made “necessary sacrifices” to craft Prop C – and the SF Human Services Network says without Prop C, there will be more budget cuts to social services.

Not surprisingly, Public Defender Jeff Adachi is the face of Prop D – as the “Yes on C / No on D” campaign argues that Prop D was “written behind closed doors by a politician with no understanding of pensions” and “who plans to use the issue to run for higher office.” But even paid ballot arguments for Prop D give praise to Adachi for “having the guts” to stand up to pension costs, and instead accuse Prop C of being a “backroom deal.”

In an interesting twist, Prop C supporters advertise their measure as being “250 pages of needed reform” – presuming that its sheer volume will impress voters as being a complex solution to a complex problem. But in a paid argument against Prop C, several retirees call it “265 pages of City Hall curveballs, sliders and fast ones, designed to trick voters into believing that City Hall is addressing San Francisco’s serious financial problem.” Actually, both sides are wrong – Prop C is 280 pages.

Prop C supporters also attack Prop D for being incomplete because it “only reforms pension benefits” and – is “so poorly written and full of holes that it never mentions San Francisco’s $4 billion unfunded retiree healthcare crisis.” Of course, when Jeff Adachi had a measure last year that affected health benefits, opponents campaigned heavily against it. Now that he has shied away from that issue, opponents call his new measure incomplete.

In the official “Yes on D” ballot argument, Adachi says that Prop D will save the City $400 million more than Prop C – $1.7 billion over 10 years, as opposed to $1.3 billion. And in a paid ballot argument against Prop C (signed by Adachi, but whose cost was covered by billionaire Michael Moritz), Adachi says that while Prop C requires police and firefighters to increase their pension contributions, City Hall politicians also cut a “side deal” to raise their salaries – which would effectively cancel out their concessions.

In an argument that will be made repeatedly throughout the campaign, several Prop C supporters claim that Prop D is illegal. Therefore, any of its increased “savings” will never materialize – because the measure will be tied up in court. District Attorney George Gascon, Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanna Hayes-White and former Board of Supervisors President Angela Alioto all cite the California Supreme Court case Allen vs. Long Beach, 45 Cal.2d 128 (1955) – in various paid ballot arguments.

Besides showing the broad support behind Prop C, opponents of Prop D are very effective – through paid ballot arguments – at showing its wide opposition. The SF Democratic Party calls it an “assault on San Francisco values,” and State Party Chair John Burton says “Vote No on the Tea Party and Wall Street billionaires.”

SEIU Local 1021, who played a prominent role in defeating Prop B last year, financed six “No on D” ballot arguments – signed by its various rank-and-file members: one by library employees, and others by Laguna Honda workers, retirees, 911 dispatchers and public school employees. Interestingly, a few of them argue that Prop D asks for City workers to pay more – while shielding attorneys in Jeff Adachi’s office from increases.

SEIU 1021 also paid for a “No on D” ballot argument by LGBT leaders (signed by State Senator Mark Leno, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, former Supervisor Bevan Dufty and others), and one on behalf of Asian-American politicians – which Leland Yee, Fiona Ma, Assessor Phil Ting, and Supervisors Carmen Chu, David Chiu and Eric Mar all signed.

Meanwhile, several millionaires and billionaires have paid ballot arguments in favor of Prop D. Michael Moritz, who bankrolled much of Jeff Adachi’s Prop B last year, makes the rather blanket claim that “no one who supports Prop D has worked on Wall Street.” He then goes on to write: “I got involved with pension reform because San Francisco’s hard working families deserve a City that can answer their needs. Working people should not be hammering away 60 hours per week so that lucky members of the ‘City Family’ can retire at 50, receive a guaranteed pension for 30 years, move to a tax-free state and take another job. It’s not fair.”

Richmond District resident Michael Denny gets downright populist in his paid ballot argument for Prop D: “the time has come for revolution, not reform, in the way citizens and civil servants interact.” While Christopher Keane, who lives in the Marina, argues: “Prop C falls so short that the Mayor has to put a pothole bond measure [i.e., Prop B], and tax the poor with a sales tax [i.e., Prop G].” Other paid “Yes on D” ballot arguments come from the SF Republican Party, the SF Libertarian Party and members of the Civil Grand Jury.

Prop C’s passage will be greatly helped by who won the lottery to write the official “No on C” ballot argument. While one would expect that Jeff Adachi should get the honor, the Elections Department gave it to Terrence Faulkner – a local Republican gadfly who literally pens his ballot arguments. Faulkner calls Prop C a “candy-store giveaway,” but his argument is not very persuasive. Meanwhile, several retired public employees have paid arguments against Prop C – because it will alter the composition of the Health Services Board. But with most voters unaware that such a body exists, it won’t likely persuade many people.

Props A & B: Fixing Potholes More Controversial than School Funding

Much of the “City Hall family” is behind two other ballot measures – Proposition A is a school bond that will pay to help renovate 53 public school buildings, while Proposition B is a bond measure to fix streets and sidewalks. Both have wide support from across the spectrum, but Prop B has some unexpected opposition.

All seven School Board members signed the official “Yes on A” ballot argument. Prop A, they explain, is a “critical step to ensure that all our children have safe, healthy, attractive and accessible environments to learn and thrive.” The SF Libertarian Party wrote the “No on A” ballot argument – saying we should instead sell off government buildings to bring money for the schools, or lease empty buildings to private schools.

Mayor Ed Lee and 7 Supervisors signed the official “Yes on B” ballot argument – saying it “puts San Francisco back on the road to safer and smoother streets,” and is part of the City’s 10-year capital plan to make renovations. Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and SPUR add that failing to pass Prop B will make these street improvements more expensive in the future. Paid ballot arguments for Prop B come from the Chamber of Commerce, GGRA, Walk San Francisco, the Bicycle Coalition, various disabled activists, LGBT leaders, the SF Democratic Party and all seven MTA Directors.

Judith Berkowitz from the Coalition for SF Neighbors wrote the “No on B” argument – saying it “does not explain why the City Administrator and DPW Director neglected for 20 years to direct already budgeted street repair funds to repaving our streets.” Now that Ed Lee is running for Mayor, this is a subtle attack on his record. At a recent mayoral candidates debate, Dennis Herrera (while saying he supported Prop B), went negative on Ed Lee – questioning whether the expense of such a bond could have been avoided.

Paid ballot arguments against Prop B came from the San Francisco Republican Party, former Supervisor Tony Hall, SF Tomorrow and perennial candidate Cesar Ascarrunz.

Scott Wiener’s Measures: Prop E More Controversial than Prop F

Supervisor Scott Wiener has two measures on the ballot. Proposition E is a Charter Amendment that would allow future ballot measures to be amended – or even repealed – by the Board of Supervisors. Proposition F is an ordinance that would mandate disclosure filings for political consultants – and empower the Ethics Commission to set the rules. While both are being promoted as “good-government” measures, various progressive “good-government” types have criticized them both. But based on the ballot arguments, it appears that Prop E has more opposition than Prop F.

Wiener and the five other Supervisors who put Prop E on the ballot (Mark Farrell, David Chiu, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Malia Cohen) signed the official “yes” argument – saying we should “send a message to politicians to do their jobs instead of having voters decide issues that should be handled at City Hall.” They go on to explain how Prop E would work, and which ballot measures would not be affected. Paid arguments supporting Prop E came from the SF Chamber of Commerce, Plan C and SPUR.

While Prop E has significant opposition, it is likely to pass – because Republican gadfly Terrence Faulkner won the lottery to pen the official “No on E” argument. Faulkner asks if the Board of Supervisors should become a “de facto House of Lords.” More persuasive voices against Prop E are in paid ballot arguments by the Sierra Club, the SF Democratic Party (“it allows politicians to repeal and gut laws passed by the voters”), the Coalition of SF Neighborhoods, five former Ethics Commissioners, and an interesting spectrum of politicians: Jeff Adachi, Art Agnos, Tom Ammiano, John Avalos, Tony Hall, Eric Mar, Kim-Shree Maufus, Ross Mirkarimi, Aaron Peskin, John Rizzo and Leland Yee.

The six Supervisors who put Prop F on the ballot wrote the official argument – calling it “better public disclosure for political consultants.” Once again, Terrence Faulkner got to pen the official “No on F” ballot argument. He writes: “the consultant reporting requirement is a unique and silly San Francisco program, and should be abolished.”

In the paid arguments, no one opposes Prop F because of its disclosure requirements. But six ballot arguments, submitted by mostly progressives, say it puts too much power in the Ethics Commission. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano calls it a “masquerade pretending to update technical parts of the law,” while the SF Democratic Party calls it a “trick on the voters about ethics reform.” Ex-Mayor Art Agnos, former Ethics Commission staffer Oliver Luby, and the Coalition for SF Neighborhoods submitted similar arguments.

Democrats For Prop G, Republicans Against Prop G. Any Questions?

It’s a reasonably safe bet that Proposition G, a mild sales tax to cushion the blow of state budget cuts, will pass – once San Francisco voters read the ballot pamphlet, and see who’s on each side. Democrats support it, while Republicans oppose it. “Prop G will fund public safety services, and restore monies lost because of our state’s fiscal crisis,” writes the SF Democratic Paty. The SF Republican Party argues “No on G” because “it is not time to increase taxes.” Supporting Prop G is a paid argument by the SF Chamber of Commerce. Opposing Prop G is a paid argument by the SF Libertarian Party.

Conservatives Support Prop H; School Board Opposes it

A group calling itself “Students First” writes the official argument for Proposition H – a non-binding advisory measure to support neighborhood schools. “Imagine living only blocks away from your neighborhood school,” they write, “and being told your child must attend a school far from home.” Paid “Yes on H” ballot arguments come from the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Party, Plan C, Tony Hall and Planning Commissioner Michael Antonini – who said it would stop the “flight of families.”

But State Senator Mark Leno, Dennis Kelly of the Teachers Union, all seven School Board members and Supervisors Eric Mar & Jane Kim (who are both former School Board members) wrote the “No on G” argument – calling it a “well-intentioned but fatally flawed measure” that is “costly, unnecessary and poorly written.”

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