Supervisor Elsbernd sets sights on reviving pension reform 

Two months after voters rejected a controversial pension-reform initiative that divided The City, a San Francisco supervisor says he plans to place another measure on the ballot to contain retirement costs.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said Friday he plans to introduce a pension-reform charter amendment in the coming weeks for the November ballot. He disclosed his plans days after discovering The City’s project annual pension contribution unexpectedly rose by $20 million to $375 million for the next fiscal year.

“If we are not able to get this under control, there will be massive, massive layoffs,” Elsbernd said. “This part of the budget comes first and continues to eat into our ability to provide the services demanded of us by our constituents.”

Elsbernd would not reveal details of his pension-reform proposal, but said he would avoid mistakes that led to the defeat of Proposition B on Nov. 2.

Prop. B would have required city workers to pay more into their pensions and more for their dependents health care benefits. Labor organizations spent more than $1 million to defeat it.

Elsbernd said his pension measure would not touch health care benefits. He said he will also consult with labor leaders, something Public Defender Jeff Adachi, the mastermind of Prop. B, didn’t do.

Elsbernd said if he couldn’t get support from his board colleagues to put his measure on the ballot, he’d resort to the initiative process. Elsbernd collected signatures to place a successful measure on the November ballot to eliminate the guarantee Muni operators are at least the second-highest-paid transits workers in the nation.

“I’ve proven I can pass measures,” he said.

Labor leaders have said they are open to discussing pension changes.

“We are open to all kinds of options up to and including a ballot measure if it had real reform that preserves benefits,” said Nathan Ballard, the spokesman for labor unions representing city workers. Ballard said there are ongoing talks between labor, business leaders and city officials to “arrive at a consensus solution.”

On Tuesday, city officials learned the pension costs are going to be about $20 million more than expected after a financial report on the retirement fund was completed.

Next fiscal year, The City is expected to contribute $375 million — a $100 million increase from this year — toward pension costs, according to the city controller. That is about 18 percent of The City’s payroll.

Elsbernd said that even if pension-fund investments make huge gains, in three years pension costs will be more than one-quarter of The City’s overall payroll.

“It will be the equivalent of having two San Francisco General Hospital budgets on our books, about $650 [million] to $700 million on the books, where just five years ago it was zero,” Elsbernd said.

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