...Voters in San Diego and San Jose
, the nation's eighth- and 10th-largest cities, overwhelmingly approved ballot measures last week to roll back municipal retirement benefits - and not just for future hires but for current employees.
From coast to coast, the pensions of current public employees have long been generally considered untouchable. But now, some politicians are saying those obligations are trumped by the need to provide for the public's health and safety...
Legal experts expect the cities to argue that their obligations to provide basic services such as police protection and garbage removal override promises made to employees.
In San Diego, the city's payments to its retirement fund soared from $43 million in 1999 to $231.2 million this year, equal to 20 percent of the operating budget. At the same time, the 1.3 million residents saw roads deteriorate and libraries cut hours. For a while, fire stations had to share engines and trucks. The city has cut its workforce 14 percent since 2005.
San Jose's pension payments jumped from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million this year, or 27 percent of its operating budget. Four libraries and a police station that were built over the past decade have never even opened because the city cannot afford to operate them. The city of 960,000 cut its workforce 27 percent over the past 10 years.
"It's a problem that threatens our ability to remain a city and provide services to our people," said Mayor Chuck Reed. "It's huge dollar amounts and has a huge impact on services"...