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Pension Reform Supporters Turn In Thousands Of Signatures

Aired 9/30/11 on KPBS News.

Pension Reform Supporters Turn In Thousands Of Signatures

— The battle over city employee pensions in San Diego could be moving to the ballot box. Supporters of a pension reform measure delivered thousands of signatures to the City Clerk today.

The measure would eliminate San Diego city pensions for most new hires and replace them with a 401(k). It would also put a five-year freeze on base pay for current employees.

Supporters estimate they collected about 145,000 signatures. More than 94,000 must be valid to qualify the issue for the June ballot.

Erik Bruvold is president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research. He says collecting signatures may have been the hardest part for supporters.

“All the things I’ve heard at City Hall and discussions around town is that the polling is particularly favorable for this measure,” he said. “And the real effort was on whether or not the signatures would be gathered in a timely fashion to get onto the ballot.”

Local unions fiercely oppose the measure. They had been urging those who signed a petition to request their names be removed. The City Clerk said just 35 requests were made.

The county’s Registrar of Voters now has 30 business days to verify the signatures. They will take a random sample of 3 percent of the signatures, and if the sample indicates that 110 percent of the needed signatures are valid, the measure automatically qualifies for the June ballot. If less than 95 percent of the signatures are found to be valid, then the measure automatically fails. A finding in between those limits will trigger a signature by signature review.

An analysis paid for by the group Comprehensive Pension Reform for San Diego, which is backing the ballot initiative, shows San Diego saving between $90 and $105 million in the first five years, and up to $2.1 billion after 27 years under the new retirement plan.

But opponents of the measure maintain San Diego has already taken pension reform steps that need to be given time to work. Union leaders point out San Diego is not enrolled in Social Security, which they say leaves city workers without a safety net if the stock market drops.

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