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As a leader you have to stand for something. There are times when ambiguousness, inaction and a soft voice are unacceptable – times when you can’t keep your head down hoping to emerge with no blood stains, scrapes or cuts.
Our city is telling employees to start paying all of the employee portions of retirement or face deep staffing cuts. According to one news report, “62 firefighters and 34 police officers face losing their jobs.” Now, Mayor Johnson and council members need to tell us what they stand for. Each council member should make some detailed comments on the current proposed cuts to the fire and police departments. As of Sunday, May 20th, none of our elected had a position paper or press release posted on their websites on this issue. This is a big deal! Council members need to tell us why they are locked into what appears to be an all-or-nothing proposition on pensions.
As this saga unfolds, here are some things to think about:
• The city manager wants firefighters to make 9.8% contributions to their retirement plans. When they were hired, our city told firefighters it would pay the employee’s portion of retirements: the city changed its mind. Being amiable, firefighters conceded to pay 6% toward their retirement. That equates to 3.5 million annually to help close the 15 million budget gap.
• Firefighters also conceded to defer a 5% contractual raise. That equates to 3 million dollars to close this year’s budget gap.
• In October 2012, the city will gain 6-8 million dollars, and additional annual payments of 2-3 million dollars as a result of AB 678 which requires Medi-cal to pay for fire transportation costs. That is 6-8 million dollars for this budget year and 2-3 million dollars annually to close the budget gap.
• Additionally, firefighters have offered solid solutions to help close the budget gap and avoid painful layoffs. Just like the city is currently adjusting other fees (see agenda item #6 - May 8, 2012), firefighters are suggesting an increase of $100 per medical transport to generate approximately 4.4 million dollars annually. Moreover, firefighters believe deployment of three additional ambulances will generate an additional 3 million dollars in annual revenue.
I am a public employee who ran for Sacramento City Council in 2010 and familiar with these issues. I often say politics is the art of the possible. So, if Mayor Johnson works on this issue with the same zeal he had for the down town arena, this is what is possible – and fair.
Right now the firefighters stated concessions and Medi-cal payments to the fire department, which are just around the corner, will provide 12.5-14.5 million dollars to close this year’s budget gap. That is more than enough for now! With the items previously identified as annual contributions, the fire department will contribute approximately 10-11million dollars to close the structural budget gap. In the words of Vice President Joe Biden: that is a big “$#%@ing” deal!
So here is where things get tricky and ugly. Why are these fire concessions not a good deal? Why is it still a take-no-prisoners war? Why, unlike previous years, are there no public workshops in the neighborhoods on the budget this year so citizens can vet the process? The council needs to speak up on these issues. Each council member should give us the respect to hold at least one town-hall style meeting on this matter.
The city manager is on a self-serving mission to MAKE EMPLOYEES PAY. I think council members were originally one hundred percent supportive of this take-no-prisoners mission. Since firefighters have placed solid concessions and solutions on the table, the city’s all-or-nothing pension mission will be seen as excessive if the public learns what is happening. I believe this has come down to a strategy by city officials of running out the clock – keeping their heads down and getting unions to fold before citizens can see the city’s plan takes away more than is necessary.
Fairness demands the city only ask unions to give up what is necessary to close the budget gap related to employees –anything more will be used by the city on other programs and that is not fair. For example, if fire fully concedes to the city now, after the budget is finalized the city will later gain money within the fire department under AB 678 (6-8 million dollars this year and 2-3 million dollars annually). If the city knows this money is coming, it is unfair and unnecessary to fully follow through with the proposed cuts.