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City Attorney Aguirre to Appeal Pension Case Ruling

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San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders says a judge's ruling this week supporting past pension benefit increases will not lead to bankruptcy or higher taxes. Judge Jeffrey Barton this week hammered City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s legal bid to eliminate pension benefits granted to city employees. KPBS reporter Amita Sharma talked to Aguirre this morning about what he plans to do next. 

Aguirre had promised that if he could get Judge Jeffrey Barton to agree that pension hikes granted to city workers in 1996 and 2002 were illegal, the city could save $900 million. But yesterday, the judge knocked that potential savings down to somewhere between $30 and $50 million.

Judge Barton agreed with labor groups who argued in court that past legal settlements between the city and retirees made most of the pension increases untouchable  -- even if they were illegal. One day after Barton ruled against Aguirre, the city attorney remained determined to push the case forward by filing an appeal possibly as soon as Monday.

Aguirre: We are going to be filing our writ to get our case in front of the same appellate court. And so I think that there is going to be a major showdown in the appellate court and the issue is very simple, is there integrity and the fortitude to enforce the law even though it will have an impact on many people but in the process it will protect the taxpayers of San Diego.

Aguirre said today the stakes are too high for San Diego to give up on the case. The city has a $1.4 billion dollar retirement system debt and is in the red another billion dollars in health care costs for retirees.

Aguirre: The thing that people have to realize is that if we do not set aside these benefits and come up with a plan to pay for them, it will literally cost every San Diego household $12,000 and that number goes up with interest every year.

Despite the setback, Aguirre says he’s a realist when it comes to obstacles.

Aguirre : I’m a marathon runner. I’ve run 22 marathons and what happens in a marathon is that at different points along the way, you hit various walls and the trick is to get yourself through that and on to the next milestone.

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spokesman Fred Sainz says the mayor is standing behind Aguirre’s plan to appeal Judge Barton’s ruling. Council President Scott Peters, however, according to his spokeswoman Pam Hardy says Peters doesn’t support that push.

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