Reed's pension measure is scrapped
SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS -- Mayor Chuck Reed on Friday abandoned what was supposed to be his crowing achievement, saying he had admitted defeat in his bid to get a statewide pension reform measure on the November ballot.
The decision was expected after Reed struggled to attract the well-funded allies he needed to raise the millions of dollars to gather the roughly 800,000 signatures required for the initiative to reach the ballot. Meanwhile, organized union groups mounted a campaign to defeat it, and dozens of other California mayors lined up against it.
The San Jose mayor will be termed out of office at the end of this year and had spent months traveling the state and Washington D.C. in hopes of gathering support for his initiative, which was similar to a city pension measure he championed in 2012.
The fiscally-conservative moderate had hoped to give cities across the state the power to renegotiate pension benefits for city workers' future work performed. The move could save cash-strapped cities millions of dollars and help undue generous pension deals given out in the last two decades, but it could leave cities at a competitive disadvantage as they look to hire the best cops, firefighters and other public workers.
The announcement comes hours after a hearing in Sacramento Superior Court in which a judge upheld a decision from Thursday to block Reed's lawsuit challenging the official summary of his measure. Reed had argued that Attorney General Kamala Harris' overview was incorrect, but a judge disagreed.
Reed and a handful of fellow mayors supporting the measure could not start collecting signatures until the summary was finalized, and had until mid-April to gather enough names to guarantee they'd make the ballot.
"That just can't be done," said Reed, whose group had yet to accept any money for signature gathering. "The funding is always an issue and it's always difficult because it does take millions of dollars to collect the signatures."
Reed said they will poll voters on the final initiative language while considering an appeal of the judge's ruling. After that, they'll determine whether the measure is viable for the November 2016 ballot.
"Sooner is better but if we can't do it in 2014 we'll have to do it in 2016," said Reed, who has spent years battling San Jose unions over the city's pension measure. "I'm used to working on issues that take a very long time. You can't give up just because it's hard or because it takes a long time."
But public employee unions, one of the most well-organized and financially supported political groups in the state, said the measure might be dead for 2016, as well.
"We continue to believe that the bargaining table -- not the ballot box -- is the proper place to address the budget challenges facing our communities and state," David Low, chairman of the union opposition group, Californians for Retirement Security, said in a statement. "California's teachers, firefighters, school bus drivers, nurses and other public employees remain committed to working to ensure that our public pension systems are healthy and provide the retirement security we have earned."