SAN DIEGO—Both sides of the Proposition D debate were out in front of the cameras Monday with one common message: San Diego needs pension reform.
City councilman Carl DeMaio held a news conference releasing a study that found the city was likely to spend almost $62 million on just 10 retired city employees.
"The driver of the city's financial problems continues to be the city's unsustainable pension system," DeMaio said. "No conditions, no promises, no 'trust us,' no 'the check is in the mail.' If you're going to get pension reform in San Diego, you're only going to get it if it's submitted to the voters in a comprehensive ballot measure."
The results of the study conducted by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility found, in addition to the large yearly payouts, some positions were able to cash out million-dollar accounts at retirement.
The positions cited by the study include former officials like the assistant city attorney, fire battalion chief, assistant police chief, deputy city attorney, deputy city manager as well as the city's librarian.
The city librarian for example will make more than $6 million over a 25 year period, good for more than $225 thousand annually, according to the study.
"This is worse than Bell believe it or not," said Marcia Fitz, a former accountant and current president of the group that released the study. "And the most outrageous thing of all is that the benefits are double and sometimes triple what people are making doing the job when they're working."
Referring to the Los Angeles-area scandal in the city of Bell, Fitz said the problems with Bell were morally reprehensible but the ongoing issues with San Diego's pension was more damaging financially.
"This is nothing more than a political stunt," said Darren Pudgil, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Sanders. "He knows the previous city attorney tried for years to get these benefits overturned and the courts ruled against him."
Pudgil questioned the timing of the press conference which was just a few hours before Mayor Sanders, a strong proponent of Prop D, was to present a set of reform measures that would be tied to the controversial proposition to make it more palatable to voters.
Passage of Prop D would increase the sales tax by a half cent and is estimated to raise more than $100 million in revenue.
In the past, Mayor Sanders has stated the money would be used primarily towards public safety agencies like police and fire but there are no guarantees the money would be used in that way.
Opponents, like DeMaio, worry the money will be used to fund pensions.
To ease those concerns, Mayor Sanders introduced 10 reforms at a city council meeting Monday. His office said it will save the city even more money. The City Council approved a non-binding resolution embracing the reforms. It calls for the city to commit to $73 million in annual cost reductions, freeze new spending at $20 million annually and dedicate a portion of any future potential budget surpluses to reserves or infrastructure. The Council voted 6-2 to adopt the resolution. Councilmen DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer were opposed.
The recommendations were made by the 11-member Citizen's Fiscal Sustainability Task Force in a report last month.
"Combined, we believe those 10 reforms could save the city anywhere between $70 to $80 million a year," Pudgil said. "It guarantees that the city would achieve savings of about $73 million per year before any taxes would be collected."
The reforms include pension reform for firefighters and elected officials but DeMaio said the reforms don't do nearly enough.
The councilman, who said he has declined to participate in the city's pension program, has repeatedly called for a massive overhaul of the system.
"In the long drama of pension scandals here in San Diego, we're going to continue to have them until taxpayers finally force leaders to fix the problem," DeMaio said.