Is Adachi's pension reform a Tea Party initiative?

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And can Mayor Ed Lee fashion a pension reform measure that is suitable to all sides?
Sarah Phelan

With all eyes on Wisconsin, local labor leaders are suggesting that Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s proposed retirement/health plan reforms are really Tea Party initiatives, even as Adachi threatens to place another Measure B-like initiative on the fall ballot if city leaders can't agree on a fix for the city's fiscal problems

Last fall, Adachi started a war with the local labor movement when he placed Measure B on the November ballot. Measure B proposed increasing employee contributions for retirement benefits, decreasing employer contributions for heath benefits for employees, retirees and their dependents, and changing rules for arbitration proceedings about city collective bargaining agreements,

Measure B ultimately failed, but not after both sides spent a ton of cash. And now labor is refusing to have Adachi sit in on their pension reform talks with Mayor Ed Lee, former SEIU President Andy Stern is describing the fight in Wisconsin as a ’15 state GOP Power grab," and SEIU Local 1021 leader Gabriel Haaland is pointing to Wisconsin as a reason for excluding Adachi from pension reform talks

“Adachi's obviously scapegoating a group that’s part of a national agenda,” Haaland said, noting that in the states where Republicans gained statehouse control in 2010, there’s talk about eliminating collective bargaining, and ending defined benefit plans and paycheck protection.

“The problem is that pension reform has been blowing on the anti-public sector worker winds that are blowing in Wisconsin and other states, whether progressives want to acknowledge it or not,” Haaland continued. "There is a reason that Adachi got so much money last year, and the corporate interests behind him are part of this effort to bash public sector workers.”

Prop. B’s campaign finance records show the campaign raised $1.125 million in 2010, and that the lion’s share came from wealthy individuals.

Billionaire venture capitalist, former Google board member and Obama supporter Michael Moritz gave $245,000. Author Harrier Heyman, Moritz’ wife, donated $172,500. financial analyst Richard Beleson donated $110,000. George Hume of Basic American Foods donated $50,000. Gov. Schwarzenegger’s former economic policy advisor David Crane gave $37,500. Philanthropist Warren Hellman donated $50,000. Republican investor Howard Leach, who co-hosted a Prop. B fundraiser with former Mayor Willie L. Brown, gave $25,000. Investor Joseph Tobin gave $15,750. Maverick Capital partner David Singer gave $15,000. JGE Capital Partners donated  $15,000; Bechtel owner  Stephen Bechtel Jr gave $10,000: Matthew Cohler, a general partner of Benchmark Capital, donated $10,000; the California Chamber of Commerce donated $5,000 and philanthropist Dede Wilsey gave $1,000.

But records also show that Measure B opponents, which included San Francisco Firefighters, SF Police Officers Association, SF First Responders, the California Nurses Association, United Educators, San Francisco Gardeners, San Francisco Teachers, Library Workers, laguna Honda Workers, donated over $1 million in their successful bid to squash Adachi’s reform. And that just about every elected Democrat, including Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, then mayor Gavin Newsom, Sheriff Mike Hennessey, and Board President David Chiu, came out against Adachi’s original plan.
 
Haaland acknowledged that the argument could be made that the progressives’ version of the hotel tax didn’t pass and less attention was paid to the district elections last fall, because labor focused primarily on defeating Adachi’s Measure B.

“But at the end of the day, we did get the real estate transfer tax and we defeated Measure B,” Haaland observed. "So, we need to keep fighting anti-worker pressure. It’s challenging times, but I feel like the connections need to be made.”

Adachi was swift to refute Haaland’s claim that his Measure B pension reform is and was a Tea Party initiative.
“What’s not been reported is the fact that there are all these people supporting pension reform who are progressive Democrats,” Adachi said, pointing to Moritz, Crane and former Board President and Green Party member Matt Gonzalez, who all supported Measure B last fall.

“You are talking about saving basic services and that’s a progressive cause,” Adachi continued. “You might argue that pension reform isn’t a progressive solution. But then you are saying that the needs of one group of workers are subservient to the needs of other workers. And even if you raised every tax in the city, you’d not be able to keep up with pension and healthcare costs."

“Even if we could raise parking tickets to $200 a pop, and tax folks who make more than $100,000 a year, that still wouldn’t solve the problem, because the problem is so huge,” Adachi added. “When you look at this crisis, you can’t simply redbait and say, you are a Republican, or Sarah Palin. Matt Gonzales has always spoken for progressive values, but because he supports pension reform, he’s suddenly a member of the Tea Party? At a certain point, it begins to become absurd.”

Haaland countered that he’s  “challenged by the notion that thousands show up in Wisconsin to fight some of the same people behind Measure B, but our discourse has lowered to whether or not Jeff Adachi is a good guy.”

And Adachi expressed doubt that Mayor Ed Lee can come up with a suitable pension reform plan.

“I’ve heard Lee say there has to be a solution involving pension reform and underfunded healthcare benefits that would save $300 million to $400 million in annual savings, and that corresponds with the solution he needs to come up with to close the budget deficit,” Adachi said.

Adachi said that he has met with Lee on his own to discuss pension reform, but the new mayor did not list specifics.
“He didn’t tell me what his plan was,” Adachi said, “The Prop. B supporters have a plan, but Lee did not ask what that was. But he said he sincerely wants to solve that problem, and that his preference would be one ballot initiative that everyone would agree on. And I fully support a solution that is going to truly solve the problem. I’ve always believed it’s important for the public to understand the gravity of the situation. For too long, it’s been the elephant in the room and there hasn’t been enough public information.”

Adachi said he had a beef with the idea of “groups of labor unions holding meetings at City Hall and deciding who can participate.”

"It’s also troubling that there is no information publicly available about what the ideas on the table are, no explanation of how they got there, and no documenting of the extent of the problem,” Adachi continued. “And that’s what got us here in the first place: a lack of transparency, and voters being asked to weigh in without the full information.”

Adachi said he has an upcoming meeting with Lee, the Department of Human Resources and Sup. Sean Elsbernd about pension reform that is separate from the working group that includes labor and philanthropist Warren Hellmann.

And Elsbernd told the Guardian he believes the pension reform process would go smoother if Adachi were at the table.
“I have no problem with Jeff at the table, it makes sense to have him there to avoid two ballot measures,” Elsbernd said.

Elsbernd added that it was too early to cite numbers when it comes to talk of capping pensions.
“It’s a mistake to pick a number right now because you don’t know what it’s worth,” he said, noting that the pension reform working group has sent a bunch of different scenarios to retirement actuaries to crunch the numbers to see how much they would save the city.

“I can see a case being made for asking the highest paid city workers to contribute higher amounts for healthcare benefits,” Elsbernd said. “But I’m not sure that’s equitable on retirement benefits, though I could see a situation where safety pays more, regardless, because they have better pensions.”