Pension revamping afoot 

In June, The City will vote on Proposition D, a proposal that aims to chip some ice off San Francisco’s glacier-size retirement obligations.

Among other things, Prop. D would cause pension amounts to be calculated using an average of an employee’s two highest-earning years instead of one year. This is supposed to save money and prevent pension “spiking,” a practice whereby an employee inflates his or her final compensation (and thus pension amount) using vacation payouts or quickie promotions. 

Spiking is now being addressed at the state level, too. In Sacramento, Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-La Puente, and state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, each proposed a bill (AB 1987 and SB 1425, respectively) to curb the practice. The proposals apply to all retirement plans throughout the state, including the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System. The new laws would exclude from the definition of “final compensation” any change made for the purpose of beefing up one’s retirement benefits. They also would cap an employee’s “final compensation” number at the average increase given to similar employees in the preceding two years.

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of these laws going into effect. According to Gary Amelio, executive director of SFERS, “Some of the issues raised in AB 1987, with reference to determination of final compensation, have historically been addressed by the employer.” (My translation: Get it together, city department heads.)

“The retirement system merely confirms the accuracy of the information we’re given,” Amelio said. “We are not in the business of making a political or policy decision as to what should or should not go into compensation.”

Why unions are exempt from SF’s donation law

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations, unions and groups of individuals can spend unlimited sums supporting or opposing candidates — as long as they do it independently of politicians’ campaigns. The decision in the case, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, doesn’t affect San Francisco election laws directly because we don’t have a limit on the amount groups can give to noncandidate causes.

We, however, have something almost as fun: a law banning corporations from donating to candidates unless they set up a special fund for political purposes. The law does not apply to unions. And that’s the problem.

According to Legislative Digest, at the time the law was passed in 2006, its purpose was to protect shareholders who might not know what the corporation is contributing to. Unions are exempt because union members can opt out of having dues used for political purposes.

However, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case basically said that “protecting shareholders” is a dumb argument and you can’t base a rule limiting contributions on that reasoning because it applies to companies with only one shareholder, who would obviously know what’s going on.

This law, then, is ripe for the plucking if someone wanted to challenge it.

Will they? Well, all contributions to candidates in San Francisco are limited to $500, so it’s unlikely that the business community would fight too hard to contribute such a small amount. However, at the hearing on this law before the Ethics Commission, David Owen, legislative aide to former Supervisor Aaron Peskin (the measure’s sponsor), reportedly said, “The decision to exempt unions from the ban and to focus instead on corporations was a deliberate policy choice.” You see, “applying the ban to unions could create political opposition.”

Many DCCC candidates, little work to actually do

With 63 candidates running for the Democratic County Central Committee in June, it’s clear that the DCCC is the new black.
Why are so many people running for this position? I’ve seen the committee meetings, and from what I can tell there’s a lot of sitting around, debating resolutions about troops in Iraq and whether to legalize prostitution. It’s cute that they think it matters. 

Since running for the committee is a relatively low-profile position that doesn’t require much fundraising, it’s an attractive option for folks running for office for the vewy fiwst time, which may explain some of the enthusiasm for the seats.

For those who win, the sexiest part of the job is picking who will receive the Democratic Party endorsement. In our fair city of Democrats, the party endorsement is no small prize. In November 2008, for example, every supervisor who won had been endorsed by the committee.

Of course, with so many candidates running for the committee, getting endorsed by other organizations is important, but also makes for marathon meetings. I hear the Alice B. Toklas endorsement meeting went for 12 hours. The San Francisco Young Democrats is having its endorsement meeting in a few days and I looked over the candidate statements submitted ahead of time.

How does one distinguish him- or herself among such a wide field? One candidate, Andrew Clark, wrote, “I am related to the Democratic candidate for governor and have a good relationship, thus I can act as a liaison for the campaign and office and the DCCC.”

Surely that’s worthy of an endorsement to be a party endorser.

Bored of Supervisors: Quote of the Meeting

“Thank goodness the Board of Supervisors is about to step up. Thank goodness so many other people are stepping up. One big important group has yet to step up. There’s still a group of employees that are in line to receive an $8 million to $12 million pay raise. They are not part of the public employee group that has agreed to [furlough days]. Our transit workers still have not given a penny. They need to step up, too.”

— Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, issuing a challenge to Muni operators at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting right before the vote to reject proposed Muni fare changes. Also a challenge to Muni operators: behaving pleasantly and not killing people.

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Melissa Griffin

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