When politicians have bad news to deliver, news they don’t really want anyone to hear, they’ll often deliver it at a Friday afternoon press conference—nobody watches the TV news on Friday night and nobody reads the paper on Saturday. But Mayor Chuck Reed’s announcement last Friday that San Jose is in a “fiscal and public safety emergency” was like a big squirt of gasoline on the smoldering heap of embers that is the city’s relationship with its public-employee unions. And the resulting flare-up did not go unnoticed.
Reed’s pre-weekend chat contained the details of his reforms proposal: hiking the retirement age by five years, cutting retirees’ cost-of-living increases in half and putting a firm cap on retirement contributions. Yolanda Cruz, president of the Municipal Employees Federation, did not hesitate to overreact, comparing life-long Democrat Reed’s proposals to those of the union-busting, Tea Partying governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
Cruz didn’t mention that at the same time that he asked the city’s workers to bite the bullet, Reed vowed to go to voters to ask for a tax hike.
Reed has said he is open to outside suggestions on how to “prevent a disaster,” casually pointing north toward Vallejo, which filed for bankruptcy in 2008—a move that instantly voided all of its union contracts. If the mayor is as flexible as Alex Gurza has been in negotiating with the city’s unions on pay and benefit cuts, lawsuits will likely follow.
Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen and councilmembers Rose Herrera and Sam Liccardo co-signed the mayor’s memo, which seems likely to pass with the help of fellow councilmembers Pierluigi Oliverio (a supporter of standard 401k for city employees) and Pete Constant (a police pension recipient and critic).
None of this, meanwhile, solves the city’s $115 million budget shortfall for the looming fiscal year. Reed’s fiscal reforms would only begin to take shape starting in 2012-13.