Will Hard Times Bring Out the Progressives' Inner Elsbernd?

Does pension reform seem like a good idea now?
It doesn't seem likely that many elected members of San Francisco's government want to stand up and bellow about how pension reform is bunk -- they're just fine with the way things are. At least that's what Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is counting on.

You may recall that Elsbernd introduced a pair of potential charter amendments late last year. One of them took a pot shot at Muni drivers' salaries being guaranteed at the nation's No. 2 rate. Political winds may be blowing elsewhere than into Elsbernd's sails on that one. But the city's bad fortune may have made his retirement spending measure more palitable, even among progressives.

"Clearly we need to think, long-term, about our pension system," noted Supervisor David Campos. "Something needs to be done; it's a question of what makes sense and what's fair and equitable."

Elsbernd's pension plan gets its hearing Thursday in the supes' Rules Committee; add Campos to the list of progressives who have not "smacked down" Elsbernd's proposal "as bad as I thought [they] would."

Incidentally, here's a synopsis of Elsbernd's three-part reform plan.

I. Rather than contribute 7.5 percent to the employee pension fund, new hires in the police, fire, and sheriff's department will be required to give 9 percent -- because their benefits are higher than other workers'.

II. To combat "pension spiking," workers' pensions wouldn't be based on their highest salary over the course of 12 months but the average salary over a 36-month period.

III. When investment income is enough to make up for all or some of the city's mandatory 9 percent payment toward employees' pension fund, the surplus money must be used to pay for the looming multi-billion dollar costs of retiree's health care the city currently hasn't allotted a dime for.
Elsbernd hopes to have this measure placed on the June ballot as a charter amendment; he puts his chances at "50-50." Campos, meanwhile, declined to opine any further prior to the measure's hearing Thursday in Rules Committee.

"We've pretty much hit an impasse with labor," said Elsbernd (Campos noted this, too). "Let's see what happens now. Just let the process do its thing."

Update, 10:20 a.m.:
Walking out of a less-than-stellar meeting with organized labor moments ago, Elsbernd re-assessed the chances of his pension bill getting out of committee tomorrow at "100-to-1."
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