What it does
Proposition E is a Charter amendment placed on the ballot by a vote of the Board of Supervisors. If adopted by a vote of the people, it would increase the retirement benefits of qualified survivors (spouses, domestic partners, minor children, dependent children, dependent parents) of certain police officers and firefighters (safety employees) who die in the line of duty. The measure would make the benefits for those who were hired after 1976 equal to such benefits payable to survivors of such safety employees who were hired before 1976.
Why it is on the ballot
Under the current Charter, there are different benefits for the survivors of safety employees hired after 1976 than for those hired before 1976. Upon the death in the line of duty of both a pre-1976 and post-1976 safety officer, the qualified survivor receives the deceased safety officer's salary being paid at the date of death until the earliest date at which the deceased safety officer would have been eligible to retire, which is both reaching age 50 and having completed 25 years of service.
After the date that a pre-1976 deceased safety officer would have been eligible for retirement, the qualified survivor is paid 100% of the retirement benefit the deceased safety office would have been entitled to. By contrast, the qualified survivor of a post-1976 safety officer is paid only 75% of the retirement benefit.
Those who support Proposition E state:
- As a matter of simple equity the survivors of post-1976 safety officers who die in the line of duty should receive the same retirement benefits as pre-1976 officers.
- It is the least we can do as a community to generously compensate the families and loved ones of those who expose themselves to physical risk and disease in service to the public.
- Relatively few survivors of safety officers will qualify for this benefit, and the cost will therefore be small compared to the total cost of safety officer retirement benefits.
Those who oppose Proposition E state:
- The argument that this benefit will equalize pre- and post-1976 employees' benefits is misleading. The vast majority of active safety employees were hired post-1976, so nearly all of these employees have equal benefits right now. In addition, the change will apply to all safety employees hired in the future. This measure is not about equalizing benefits, it is about increasing benefits.
- The Charter Amendment that reduced retirement benefits for post-1976 safety officers was part of a large reduction in benefits to employees all across City government. If this measure passes, other types of employees will feel that they too deserve to return to a pre-1976 benefits package, which would have huge costs for the City. If pay and benefits in the City must always be equal to those with the best deal, it becomes impossible for the City to make cuts for budgetary reasons or to phase in a workforce with less rich benefits.
- At a time of City budget deficits we should not add $1 million to the annual cost of government.
There are currently survivors of 11 deceased safety officers who would immediately begin receiving this increased benefit. In addition, the qualified survivors of all post-1976 safety officers who die in the line of duty and who are currently employed, as well as all those to be employed in the future, would be entitled to this increased benefit.
Of the 3,800 safety officers who are currently employed, over 90% are post-1976 employees.
Although the phrase "in the line of duty" suggests death by a violent hazard while on duty, it also includes death caused by a disease that is determined to be related to performance of duties up until five years after retirement.
The controller has estimated that the cost to San Francisco of this increased benefit would be approximately $1 million per year.
While we do not in any way intend to diminish the important contributions that our safety employees make to our city, especially those who lose their lives as a result of public service, our opposition to this measure stems from a larger concern about the process for establishing and changing benefits to City employees.
San Francisco voters are usually very generous when it comes to granting pay and benefit increases to public employees. In many cases, the motivation for this generosity is sound. We need to offer sufficient compensation in order to ensure that we continue to recruit the right people to work for the City and receive a high level of public service.
However, at almost every election, voters are asked to modify the terms of employee and retiree health and other benefit and pension plans. This piecemeal approach is confusing to voters, who are not provided adequate information comparing employee and retiree salaries, benefits and pension programs with comparable jurisdictions, long-term fiscal ramifications or what may be proposed on the next ballot by a City employee group trying to catch up with another group.
Nobody can seriously argue that the pay and benefits packages for City workers are meager. It is unwise and unreasonable to make individual decisions to grant increases in pay and benefits to some groups without understanding how those decisions fit into the larger picture of employee compensation citywide. The City needs to make fundamental changes in the way compensation packages are evaluated and established. SPUR has repeatedly called for more information and analysis to help the voters make rational decisions about the City's benefit programs, and we renew that call here.
SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition E.