Griffin: Leading charge to reform pensions 

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi just launched an effort to put a measure on November’s ballot that would increase the amount of money city employees must pay for retirement benefits. Recently, he sat down with me to discuss the initiative.

What exactly does your proposal do?   

It requires all City employees to pay 9 to 10 percent of their salary toward pension benefits. Right now, employees are supposed to contribute 7.5 percent toward pensions, but only about half of The City’s employees actually pay that amount. The City picks up the tab for thousands of workers — paying our contribution and theirs — and they pay nothing.

When city employees retire, they qualify for a guaranteed pension up to 75 to 90 percent of their salary for the rest of their lives. This year, the taxpayers are paying $525 million to cover pensions and in a few years, it’ll be $818 million. This comes at a time when The City faces a $525 million deficit this year, and a deficit of $787 million next year.

What’s the difference between this proposal and Proposition D on the June ballot?

The measure in June only affects city employees hired after July 2011, so we won’t see any savings until many years down the road. The SMART Reform initiative would apply to all current and future city employees, and The City will see immediate savings if it gets on the ballot and passes.

What’s the total amount of savings your SMART Reform is supposed to generate? And will that be enough to fix the financial mess we are in?

According to the city controller and Health Services [System], this measure would save us $170 million annually. Of course, we also need to look at other aspects of the budget process.

How many signatures do you need in order to get this on November’s ballot?  

We have to turn in 46,000 signatures by the July 6 deadline.

You are up for re-election in November. Will this affect your campaign?

Not really. I think that once people understand what a dire situation we are facing, they will support the proposal — even city workers.  

A small effort, yet still an effort

When a city employee retires, they receive a guaranteed monthly amount based on a formula that uses several factors, including the employee’s highest compensation for any one year of earnings.

Proposition D on November’s ballot says: For city employees hired after July 1, 2011, we’ll use an average of the two most highly compensated years to determine the monthly pension. Also, new fire and police employees hired after July 1, 2010, have to contribute 9 percent of their salary to the pension fund, up from the current 7.5 percent rate.

The city controller estimates that the initiative will save between $300 million and $500 million in a 25-year period, but those savings won’t really kick in until future employees decide to retire.

Prop. D offers reform like a light drizzle in the desert — not as much as we need, but hard to refuse.

Leno takes a shot at BP — one that could hit hard

Arizona is not the only candidate for the top spot on Santa Francisco’s Naughty List. British Petroleum’s recent decision to give free oil to all manner of marine life in the Gulf of Mexico has angered everyone, including Greenpeace and the tea party movement (whose members obviously have been itching for a reason to declare war on Britain again anyway).

As luck would have it, our very own state Sen. Mark Leno is in a position to score a small but important victory against the oil company.

See, the California Senate is currently considering a bill (SB 933) that would prohibit surcharges on consumers who use debit cards. (A 1985 law prevents surcharges on credit card purchases.) Opposing the measure are groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Grocers Association and, you guessed it, BP.

Introduced by Sen. Jenny Oropeza, D-Long Beach, the bill was heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 27, where it passed. Despite being in the middle of the oil spill crisis, BP made sure a representative was there to testify against the bill.

Leno is on that committee and not only voted in favor of the bill, but he’s a co-author.

If, as is widely rumored, Leno runs for mayor, I think thumping BP on behalf of consumers will be worthy of a campaign flier almost as slick as the recent spill.

Bored of Supervisors: Quote of the meeting

“You can’t sugar-coat s--- and call it ice cream.”

— Supervisor Chris Daly at Monday’s Public Safety Committee hearing, on Mistermayor’s proposed sit-lie law. Actually, I’m pretty sure I saw a guy selling that product on the sidewalk in the Haight — at least I think it was sugar.

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Melissa Griffin

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