It's an odd time for a pay-increase measure in San Francisco 

Last Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to put a measure on the next ballot (which will be in November unless there is a special statewide election before then) that would allow the Board of Education to increase their pay from $500 per month up to half the regular salary of a first-year teacher in San Francisco, or about $25,000 per year. Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell voted no.

There are many problems with this proposal, but one issue, conceded by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is “the timing of this is a bit funky.”

Voters are generally in no mood to give raises to anyone, especially people who ran for office knowing they would be paid $500 per month, but the real killer will be the other measures on the next ballot — which many optimists still believe will be a statewide special election in June.

First, a tobacco tax proposal is set to be on the next statewide ballot. It would assess $1 per pack of cigarettes sold in California and use the money to pay for cancer research. Tobacco companies have defeated similar measures 14 times; they spent $66 million defeating the last one. Guess who big tobacco is going to mobilize to get out and vote? Hint: It will not be people who like giving money to government employees.

Second, the Students First initiative has gathered enough signatures to be on the ballot at the next local election. Its measure is a policy statement that students should be guaranteed a spot at a school near their homes unless parents want to send their kids elsewhere. The whole thing is a Bronx Salute to the Board of Education’s current student placement “system,” and it will attract voters who are angriest at the board.

Add to all this the fact there is no inkling of a campaign in favor of increasing the pay for Board of Education members, and you have a recipe for one big funky failure.

New pension-reform proposal may prevail

Today, the Board of Supervisors will enter into closed session to review The City’s position on reforms to the pension and health care benefits of city employees. Attending the meeting will be Mayor Ed Lee and members of his labor negotiations team.

Take note of this first of several meetings between Lee and the board, because this is officially where the real reform action is. Unless a group wants to gather thousands of signatures, getting six votes at the board is the only way to put a charter amendment on the ballot to change the system of retiree benefits. Whatever proposal the board endorses will be voted on in November.

But it may not be the only proposal for retiree reform before the voters. Once a proposal has six votes at the board, we’ll have to see whether Public Defender Jeff Adachi will be satisfied with it or if he’ll move forward to gather signatures for his own proposal. We may be looking at two reform measures in November.

Then there is the council of union representatives commonly referred to as “the Hellman Group” — after wealthy businessman Warren Hellman, who is also a member. That group is slipping from relevance as neither Lee nor the board is limited by the group’s ideas. Don’t let Lee’s cooperative rhetoric fool you; he has been openly meeting with Adachi and his background is nonprofit, not union. I don’t think he’s above angering unions to prevent cuts to city services.

Hellman is also drifting from the group that bears his name. He recently stated that we need to save $300 million to $400 million per year in pension costs, which is more than double the figure that would have been saved by last year’s Proposition B. The massive changes required to achieve that level of savings are not going to come from a group of union representatives. (Their little list of proposals so far proves as much.) And anything less than lasting structural change is hardly befitting what Hellman likely sees as his legacy in San Francisco.

For these reasons, the main players in the retiree reform debate are now the Board of Supervisors, the mayor and Adachi. If all three can agree on one proposal, I doubt any amount of union spending could defeat it in November.

Supervisors scold taxi industry

‘We all know that calling a taxicab dispatch is about as effective as calling Muni to pick you up,” Supervisor David Chiu said at last Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Chiu was actually chastising the taxi industry just as the board was about to pass legislation that would help the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency crack down on illegal car services.

The new law actually helps registered cab drivers, but the moment was far from a love fest. As Supervisor Scott Wiener pointed out, “The only reason why these unpermitted cabs exist and flourish is because of the inadequacies in our system.”

Wiener’s amendment to remove the most severe penalties for operating illegal cabs passed unanimously. His resolution asking the agency to issue additional taxicab permits for use during peak hours is up for a vote today.

I asked Wiener whether he’s worried that taking on the taxi industry will get him blacklisted from service. His response? “Well, since I usually can’t get a cab anyway, that wouldn’t be a particularly effective weapon.”

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Melissa Griffin

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