Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot topic: Prop B

This from a reader:
I'm new to this sfkfiles. Can you please start a blog that discusses thoughts on proposition B and how it affects sf teachers healthcare. I feel our teachers that teach our children will be severely affected. I will vote NO on B.


  1. Melissa Griffin (aka "Sweet Melissa) had a short piece about some of the distortions in the campaigns for and against this. It's hard, I think. Teachers are paid less in the US than in other countries, but we spend more per-pupil than most other countries to get very under-performing kids (overall). But when I compare my private-sector job insurance and what I pay, the Prop B changes don't seem out of line. Of course, I'd rather the health care savings went to teachers' salaries (and not to the other things that inflate cost of public education. whatever those are).

  2. I'm certainly not unbiased on this point since it affects me personally -- for me Prop B would amount to about a 15% pay cut. This is because my union agreed to a giveback of 6% of our pay 2 months ago. Prop B would add another 9% on top of the concession.

    For me, I have accepted a career with a lower salary than I would have earned had I stayed in the private sector, because A) I am doing something I love and B) I have good benefits to make up for the lower paycheck. If Prop B passes I will probably have to choose between moving my family of 4 into a 1 bedroom or even studio apartment (rent is our biggest expense) or -- the more likely scenario -- moving to my mom's basement with the family until we can get our feet under us somewhere else. That will be really sad because I love working with the kids here in San Francisco.

    I know things are tough all over and I know that San Francisco has to get our city back into the black, but if Prop B passes, most working families I know (that is, my colleagues and I) will be driven from the city.

  3. 11:54, thanks. It needs to be said that vast majority of people who would be affected by Prop B are middle class wage-earners, often with families. Not upper-middle class professionals, but 5-figure wage earners whose pensions and benefits are not exorbitant and have been given in place of market-rate wages.

    To be clear, I do think that pension and retirement reform will be needed--but for ALL of us, since the private sector has largely abandoned this responsibility and who among us who are GenXers or Millenials really believe that the Boomers and their parents will leave us a fully funded Social Security and Medicare program? It's a HUGE elephant in the national living room. We need some kind of national, *portable* annuity savings plan to supplement social security. With required matches by employers. Some are talking about this in government and (gasp) even in unions, but no traction yet. But it needs to happen.

    But anyway, Prop B does NOT solve this issue. It is a cudgel being used for political gain, riding the political wind of the moment, that will only worsen the recession for a number of middle class families in SF--which are fast a shrinking number already.

    I know it is fashionable to bash public sector workers right now, and sure there are egregious examples of lazy bums, but there are a lot services being provided by competent people behind the scenes in our city and state. A functioning society pays its civil servants and police and soldiers, or it founders. This has been true back to Roman times, and beyond.

  4. 12:09: "We need some kind of national, *portable* annuity savings plan to supplement social security."

    Do you mean like the 401(k), 403(b) and IRA programs? Or by "annuity savings" do you mean to be invested in something other than stocks?

  5. Not exactly 401(k) or 403(b) plans. I mean savings plans that are aggregated managed by the government, not Wall Street; the government has a much better track record in management (really! despite the current anti-government hysteria!). They also pay an annuity as opposed to being wholly owned by the individual--there are death benefits, but not the whole corpus. Contributions are mandatory and also include a mandatory employer match.

    The trade-off here is less control and ownership over the corpus, but a much larger measure of security, especially if you live to a ripe old age (most people do not save enough for years of retirement). Most Americans, who are not particularly great money investors, would benefit from greater security over greater control and higher risk.

    Theresa Ghilarducci is doing great work on this. I'm sure it needs tweaking, but the point is that fresh ideas need airing. The old models are broken, but regular working people still need a measure of security than neither social security nor 401(k)s--which were basically tax-avoidance savings vehicles designed for really wealthy people--can meet.

    Of course people might still save beyond such a program, if they can.

    Here is a link to an article by Theresa Ghilarducci that explains the concept and its elements. Some forward-thinking unions are beginning to think about this idea and others.

  6. ^^^^ oh, and....these funds should be *portable* from job to job (another reason for them to be aggregated) and no vesting period needed, unlike most pensions. Just start contributing at 5% of salary with an employer match. A well-managed plan, backed by the US gov't, should be able to provide a guaranteed % annuity on what you and your employers put in. This would be a supplement to social security and whatever you can save in IRAs and 401(k)s.

    No more retirees living and dying by the whims of the market and watching their "savings" disappear when Wall Street's bubbles burst.

  7. That's an interesting idea. I know it's frustrating to look at my company's 401(k) plan and see that I can only invest in like 7 mutual funds. It'd be interesting to have an annuity purchase in there, but as you say, it'd have to be truly portable. (Currently with a 401(k), you have to cash out to port your money; in an annuity, there would likely be penalties for that, which kind of wrecks the point.)

  8. Jeff Adachi disingenously states that the average salary of a city worker is over $90,000 a year; most of my fellow city workers and I make far, far less than this, and his figure is inflated by averaging the few stratospheric salaries that do exist for the very top level managers (one or two in each city "department"). Very few city workers make more than $60,000 a year; furthermore, as civil servants, city workers stop receiving salary increases after they've hit the top of their pay scale (a very small range when you consider many people stay in their positions a lifetime). As someone else stated, the passage of Prop B will amount to an additional 13% pay cut on top of the 6.6% pay cut most of us just received earlier this year.

  9. It used to be that City workers got paid less that the private sector in exchange for job security and better benefits. Today, City workers get paid MUCH better than the private sector, have less risk for job loss and get gold plated bennies.

    It is a fallacy that City workers are so underpaid - they make on average more than private sector employees in SF. The average City employee makes 120,000 while the average private sector employee makes 82,000 (don't even get me started on the nonprofit sector.)

    I used to work in a corporation, and now work for a nonprofit that works with government. I have never been paid or compensated as well as the government workers in the City of SF.

    As a taxpayer in SF our City and other government workers have to pay their fair share - like the private and nonprofit employees do.

    I'm a fervent Democrat, but our City employees need to pay their fair share - and NOT on the backs of the rest of us that already have to carry an undue load.

    Vote Yes on B.

  10. Why is it that after the private sector workplace was totally gutted in the 1980s, private sector workers now turn with a vengeance on public sector workers? Come ON, people. ALL of you should have pension plans, 8-hour workdays, paid sick and vacation leave, and so on. These are not "gold plated bennies." These are workers' rights that unions wrestled one by one from the maw of unregulated capitalism that was the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Gilded Age. Don't dump on public sector workers; get out there and re-unionize.

    Read a fucking history book, and vote No on B.

  11. I'm sorry for the teachers, but the only way to keep SF fiscally solvent is to vote YES on Prop B. We just cannot continue to pay the current high pension costs for future city workers out of the city coffers and continue to fund current priorities.

  12. I take umbrage at this $120K number being thrown around.

    I have worked for the city for 13 years, am at the top of my pay scale, and am in a position that requires a master's degree and I earn $78,000 a year (gross). I am in one of the higher-paying positions in my department (Public Library).

    I know about the list of six-figure income city employees, and think that issue should resolved. But lumping the salaries of all the workers like me together with those guys, then using the inflated number to come up with an 'average' is disgusting. "Lies, damned lies, and statistics" indeed.

  13. Tailypo--

    At $78K, you can indeed help pay for more of your benefits -- sorry, but no sympathy here. Voters and taxpayers cannot continue to give you what we don't have (due to the economy) or what is above market rate for everything across the board.

    Maybe the public sector unions should take a hard look at who they endorse to see who keeps and hires so many six figure salary people - under Newsom it's gone sky high.

    The problem with the public sector: They never had had to deal with a bottom line - line a nonprofit does or a small business.

    Yet City workers can retire well before the rest of us with health care covered, while the rest of us have to fund it.

    The City is too bloated with too many workers - make it smaller (like unions will go for THAT!) so that the benefits wont' make the City financially insolvent.

    BTW- the City exists to serve the residents of San Francisco, not to be an employment service.

  14. "but the only way to keep SF fiscally solvent is to vote YES on Prop B."

    That is just a lie in a wealthy city like SF.

    Prop B would actually gut many of our public priorities by creating high turnover and lowering the quality of services. It would balance our budget on the backs of what is left of our stable middle class. Other commenters are correct that the vast majority of people affected are making in the mid-range of five figures.

    Creativity may be needed to figure out retirements in the future, YES. But this is not it. This idea of "we don't have good jobs and security, therefore you shouldn't either" is just a race to the bottom. San Francisco can do better.

    Good point too that strong societies pay a decent (not exorbitant) salary to civil servants. Corruption and decline happens when these are defunded. Look at any third world country.

    NO on B.

  15. September 28, 2010 7:35 PM
    Why do pubic service unions insist on taxpayers funding what we cannot afford over the long run?

    At the state level we are cutting schools and services to fund employee benefits.

    At the City level we simply have too many employees that fight every step of the way to improve or operate more efficiently - and now seem to exist to just support the bloated City government.

    Ever try getting a building permit? Heck, I couldn't even get my marriage certificate without a screwup.

    No one ever gets fired or loses their job for incompetence - I know, I work with them.

    Yes on B

  16. Because teachers are state employees, aren't they not affected/covered by Prop B (which is targeting only City of SF employees?)

  17. Prop B--another ballot measure in California to send a message of voter anger and frustration. And once again, bad policy with lots of unintended consequences. Prop 13 was supposed to send a message, once. And now we are a failed state.

  18. Yes on B. Time for everyone to tighten their belts and pitch in. The private sector has been doing so for the past 3+ years without the promise of a generous pension system when we retire. Rather, we rely on the 401k system which has suffered during the stock market downturn

  19. Vote yes on B.

    Pension obligations to public-sectors workers now top $4 billion.

    These pensioners dip into the city's general fund to a greater extent each year. In turn, we have to cut city services each year.

    Here's your choice:

    Vote Yes on B, so public-sector workers have to cover more of their own retirement costs.


    Accept continuing cuts in Park & Rec, library hours, street cleaning, neighborhood health clinics, etc. etc.

  20. Tailypo, I agree that's the type of political shenanigans that provides drama but really hurts the case being made. I will vote yes on B and consider it a temporary measure in desperate times until some type of more equitable system can be put in place. I will add that if my currently uninsured family could get full medical, dental, and eye care for $500-$700/ mo. I'd be thrilled.

  21. Yeah that average $90,000 a year salary number is a bit bogus. It would be more meaningful to see the median salary, of maybe the median salary for full time employees and part time employees. Both sides of this love playing games with the numbers, and it gets old.

    But there is a clear backlash coming against public sector employees and unions, and I don't think the unions have the PR abilities to counter it.

    The fact is that we are in a race to the bottom. We always talked about how our generation wasn't going to have it as good as our parents. It's happening now. What the hell am I supposed to do about it?

  22. About this...

    Yeah that average $90,000 a year salary number is a bit bogus.

    I'll agree with that in part, but it's also bogus many of the claims made by public employee unions that all their employees are going to starve or go under (most of whose employees do NOT live in SF and do NOT have to pay for their own higher benefits!)

    The idea that the unions don't have a strong enough PR machine is a bit off - there is a huge machine, maybe the voting public is just finally catching on to runaway costs and entitlement?

    We ALL have to face the music and deal with the pain across the board. Public sector is not immune - and the rest of us can't pay for it when we're struggling to cover our own costs.

    We have to define market rate - it's probably somewhere between what the private sector has to pay out of pocket (with less security) and what the public sector gets lots of (with lots of job security.)

    It'd also help if the City ran more efficiently - I'd be a bit less jaded and more willing to fund top dollar.

  23. I have to agree that Prop B seems quite similar to Prop 13, designed to create irrational frenzy among voters.

    I agree that pension reform is needed, but look carefully at what will happen to to most city workers salaries under prop b. Most full time positions do top out at low mid 5 figures, and no one has mentioned that the majority of city workers are part time, many unable to work other jobs because of crazy schedules (for example 10-2 one day, 2-6 another day, and 5-9 another day) - for the part timers with 2 dependents who make about $20 hourly gross to have to pay $439.79 a month will be a huge burden, and indeed, families may have to make the choice between healthcare, food, or rent. Please do not jump on the "yes on b" bandwagon before you find out for yourself just how onerous this proposition will be for the majority of city workers.

    Also, Jeff Adachi is not affected by this measure, and he will not have to pay any part of his very high salary toward pension and health care benefits. Ask yourself why Adachi wants reform on the backs of the lowest compensated city workers, and why he did not propose something more reasonable. Doesn't it make more sense for those making $90,000 + annually (which Adachi claims is the "average" city worker salary) to contribute more toward their healthcare costs, or something that is scaled according to how much you make annually?

    Adachi's proposition b treats all workers equally, from the highest to lowest paid, and that is its inherent flaw.

  24. Wrong. Adachi will have to pay for his healtchare costs. Why do you think otherwise.

    He proposed Prop B in the first place because he is tired of funding cuts at his Public Defenders office year after year after year.

    The poor (people who can't afford attorneys) suffer because city workers don't want to pay for any of their retirement costs.

    City services get cut so city pensions can stay fat.

    Matt Gonzalez is also a supporter of Prop B, for the reasons cited above.

  25. Do your homework. Adachi does not have to contribute, and most top level city workers will not have to contribute, either. Not sure why Matt Gonzales supports this measure, but you should know that Willie Brown is getting paid by the yes on b committee to support it as well.

    I would support a scaled contribution that is more commensurate with annual salary. Should the person who makes $25,000 annually (part time 20 hour a week salaried worker) with 2 dependents have to pay the same as those who make $90,000 a year, and more? How fair is that?

  26. This was harder to find that I would have thought, but here are the FAQs from the campaign (in two posts):

    San Francisco's pension cost for its city employees has been rising exponentially. From $175 million just five years ago, the city is spending nearly $400 million this year. Within two years, the city will be paying $675 million. This is because whenever the city's pension system loses money, taxpayers must make up the difference.

    The City's costs for health care for city employees have also escalated. The City is now spending $456 million a year for health care costs, and this cost is expected to double in the next five years. In addition, according to the Controller, the City has $4 billion in unfunded health care coverage promised to employees that it doesn't have the money to pay for.

    The rising cost of city employee pensions should be of concern to anyone who lives or works in San Francisco. The quality of life in our city is directly tied to funding that is available to pay for essential city services, such as schools, street cleaning, parks, health care, children and senior services. For the first time in our city's history, the School District cancelled summer school for 10,000 children because it didn't have $4 million to pay for it. We are spending 20 times more on pension costs than we do fixing our streets. This year, our parks budget was slashed in half.

    If the City's revenues remain stable, the costs of pensions will eventually rise to the point that the city is unable to pay. Currently, the costs the city must pay towards pensions are about 13.5% of salaries ($525 illion); by 2015, the city will be paying 25% ($812 million).

    This Charter Amendment would require that city employees make additional contributions to their pensions. Many city employees, including elected officials, do not pay a penny into their pensions. Others pay 7.5% into their salaries. This would require police and fire employees to pay 10% and all other employees to pay 9%. It would also require employees to contribute more towards the cost of their health care. However, even with the additional health care contributions, city employees would pay much less for their health care than private sector employees.

    City employees receive a defined pension benefit. Upon retirement, they receive a guaranteed income based on the number of years of service. Most receive lifetime health benefits, based on the years of service.

    For example, a police officer or fire fighter with 30 years of service can retire at age 55 and receive a yearly pension of 90% of his or her salary. Other city employees can retire at 62 and receive a yearly pension 75% of their salary. Most non-city workers do not have pensions and instead have 401k retirement funds and must pay 100% of the cost of their pensions.

  27. Here are some reasons you may want to vote NO on Prop B:

    Prop B requires a single mother with one child to pay an additional $5,000 per year for health care — on top of the $8,153 annually she already pays.

    Prop B ignores that public employees took a $250 million voluntary pay cut this year, and supported two pension and health care reform measures in the past two years.

    Retired employees will be on the hook for thousands more a year for their health care. Already on fixed incomes, they will lose their ability to pay for their health care benefits and will eventually lose them altogether.

  28. Since when are San Francisco's public workers the enemy? They make the city run, they've saved the city $250 M dollars in concessions, they contribute and will contribute more to their pensions; these are the same people who help you everyday.If anything, Prop B is a flawed measure put forward by people who don't give a damn about working people, and who have shifted the blame from the banksters and greedy insurance companies to the people who can least afford it. Wake up and fight back to lift everyone up, because if we don't all work together, we will be ground up and spit out by corporate hucksters and their politician pals, whose only real interest is power...for themselves. The hell with you and me. And don't kid yourself, once their done with city workers, they're coming after the rest of us.

  29. They already came for the rest of you. City and state workers are the last middle class people left in this city.

  30. Amen, 3:16!!! We're living in a plutocracy, yet everyone is treating public sector employees like they're the problem!!

    It’s the divide and conquer strategy. If working people were to unite and all demand the kind of retirement security that is accorded to most public employees, the ruling corporatacracy would have to disgorge a bit of its hoarded wealth and share it with the “lower orders” of society. The ruling class has no intention of allowing that to happen, and they will use every propaganda tool at their disposal to prevent it. So far, they appear to be succeeding brilliantly.

  31. It is not divide-and-conquer at all.

    It is you, the public-sector workers, dipping into the general fund each year to pay for your own pensions, at the expense of city programs such as Park & Rec, libraries, and SF General. You are the problem.

    You've got to learn to fund your own pensions. No one is cutting your salary. We are just asking you to pay your own way.

    The alternative: keep cutting the funds from the Public Defenders' Office, nutrition for needy children, and all other dire needs.

  32. NO on PROP B. It affects children's healthcare costs. Prop B does not save money in the long term. Unfair to teachers, nurses, firefighters and police. Adachi does not tell you it increases the healthcare cost and pension contribution of a family of 3+ exponentially. Could you imagine a teacher(plus spouse and child) being paid $60,000 currently pays $545/month for Blue Shield. Under PROP B, it will become $765/month. Not to mention in addition to paying 9% of your salary into the pension. THAT'S A COST of $14580 WHILE LIVING IN SF. The private sector DOES not pay this much. An example would be to ask any Wells Fargo employee(family of 3+) that earns $60000-$80000. They pay roughly $160 a month for Pacificare which is the equivalent of Blue Shield. Adachi never mentions city employees already accepted 6% in pay cuts.

  33. I beg to differ, 10:36 PM -- the Yes on B propaganda certainly calculates my benefits as part of my salary since they came up with their inflated $90K a year per employee in part by calculating all benefits as part of the base salary. So when you write "no-one is cutting your salary" I hope that means you are mentally reducing the average salary statistic by about 35% right off the bat, before you even address the difference between an average and a median income.

    And to be clear -- I do think that we civil servants should continue to do as we are doing, and help balance the city budget. I do think employees in higher paying positions -- including me, at $78K -- should be targeted.

    The part-time entry-level librarians, the gardeners, the teachers -- they should not be asked to make the same sacrifice.

  34. ^^^And BTW I am home with a sick kid, lest anyone get the idea that I am posting this while I am supposed to be your tax dollars at work.

    Awaiting the results of a whooping cough test -- even though the kid is fully immunized. Apparently there have been more than a few cases of fully immunized individuals developing whooping cough lately :(

    (This *is* a parenting blog, after all!)

  35. "If the City's revenues remain stable, the costs of pensions will eventually rise to the point that the city is unable to pay.

    Currently, the costs the city must pay towards pensions are about 13.5% of salaries ($525 million); by 2015, the city will be paying 25% ($812 million)."

    So, when pension costs rise by another $300 million over the next five years...

    ...and we will have to cut city services (libraries, hospitals, schools, roadwork) by $300 million to fund your pensions.

    Pay for your own pensions!

    Yes on B.

  36. On another SF K Files thread it's been proposed that SFUSD employees are not affected by prop B.

    Have not checked this out yet but certainly will.
    Right on Tailypo! p.s. yes immunized kids can get pertussis but generally it's a much milder case.

  37. ^^^most vaccines are not fully effective across the whole population. But high vaccination rates take care of this problem via "herd immunity"--disease doesn't spread as fast. Which is why vaccination isn't only an action with individual implications but affects all of us. And yes, vaccination often means milder cases.

    Tailypo--good luck!

  38. If PROP B PASSES, it will cost the city more. How? Some employees can drop coverage all together and go HealthySF ala Newsome. Who pays the bill? You taxpayers. Firefighters, police, and other civil workers able to do overtime will do a lot of it to make up the lost wages. TEACHERS CAN'T do this. They will suffer. Taxpayers will foot the bill. Don't forget, for every reaction there is cause and effect. The judge who looked over Prop B threw out a clause which was supposed to "freeze city employees wages for five years". Public workers will suffer near term. Long term the unions will negotiate higher salary contracts. People forget the city workers already gave back 6% in concessions. VOTE NO ON PROP B. Open up the books and let's work with the unions.

  39. "You are the problem. You've got to learn to fund your own pensions. No one is cutting your salary. We are just asking you to pay your own way."

    How can you not get this? It used to be that PRIVATE SECTOR WORKERS DID NOT HAVE TO PAY THEIR OWN PENSION EITHER. Then in the 1980s the plutocrats made them put their money into the stock market and raked in the profits while the middle class all but disappeared. Now they need to find a new cash infusion. Aha! Let's pick on the public sector, what's left of it. It's grotesque. And they ARE dividing you and conquering you and me both. Go rally to get your own pension back. Leave the city workers, the people who pick up your garbage and teach your kids and keep your streets safe, alone.

  40. PS: 7:29 here. I am not a city worker. But I am a teacher. I oppose Prop B on principle, not out of personal investment.

  41. 7:29
    I am a city worker and do pay 7.5% into my pension. In the beginning of the year I also took a cut in my hourly wage. Adachi DOES NOT mention this. Now he want us to pay more into our health benefits? $765/month for a family of 3. Get real. No Non profit, private sector, corporation, or any other cities in US require their employees to pay that.

  42. 9:37
    I'll agree to that. Leave teachers, librarians, and lower paid city employees alone. Everybody do the research. Vote NO ON PROP B. It is flawed.

  43. Good write up in the Bay Citizen:

    What's clear: the reason SF politicos aren't coming out of the closet to endorse this is because they are terrified of labor. Interestingly, plenty of them support it privately and plan on voting "YES on A" because, unlike Paulson, they know the pension tsunami coming is not sustainable.

  44. tending towards Yes on BOctober 3, 2010 at 12:11 AM

    According to the Chron, if Prop B passes, "A worker with no children using Kaiser would pay $8.84 a month, up from nothing." This doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

  45. Yeah, what about teachers with kid/kids. It goes up to $473-$765. Most teachers have families you moron. No on Prop B.

  46. Okay , one more time: Prop B does not apply to SFUSD employees. It does apply to 11,000 city workers.
    So leave teachers out of the no/yes arguments please.

  47. It does affect teachers. Where does it say it doesn't. No on Prop B.

  48. How many city workers even live in SF? Most of the people who I know that work for SF live in the East Bay or Marin. They don't care at all about SF except to come in for a higher paycheck and better benefits.

  49. Um...I live in the city- as do most of my peers in my department.

    My primary issues with prop B:

    1) agree that it's fair that the total aggregate employee contribution for premiums should increase- but why not do this via a cost sharing model where single employees pay say $20 a month for kaiser (vs 0 now) instead of only $9 and not increase the costs of employees with dependants so much? There are many more employee- only folks, so you could achieve the same savings without impacting families so severely.

    2) The largest union in the city, seiu, ALREADY agreed to a contract with a 7.5% pension contribution. It starts in January. This contract is already in effect, and the effective date is locked in. This is a huge win for pension reformers and I find it "intriguing" to say the least that the seƱor Jeff fails to mention this- seems like several folks are seeking political gain by proposing something that's already going to be in place :)


  50. to 10:18 10/9 - many sf employees don't live in SF because they can't afford to!

    As many have said already, SF city workers have already given back 6.6% of their salary, and will be making a 7.5% pension contribution beginning in January, for a total of a 13% pay cut. That's already $6500 for someone who makes a $50,000 annual salary! Add the dependent care contribution on top of this, and the situation will truly be dire for many families, especially those who *do* live in SF and have to pay a disproportionate amount of their income toward rent.

    No on B!