Proposition B - Retirement Benefits: DAs & Public Defenders

Voter Guide March 1, 2004
This measure appeared on the March 2004 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This Charter amendment would authorize the Board of Supervisors to contract with the state Public Employees' Retirement Systems (PERS) to provide increased service retirement benefits for district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators.

Why it is on the ballot

Currently, district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators are members of "miscellaneous" retirement plans. These employees receive a service retirement allowance that is a percentage of their highest annual salary with the City. The percentage is determined by multiplying their salary by an age factor for each year of service. Under existing law, the age factor is 1% at age 50, rising to 2% at age 60. Thus, an employee with 20 years of service receives a 20% pension at age 50, a 30% pension at age 55, or a 40% pension at age 60. The maximum service retirement allowance is 75%.


Those who support this measure state:

  • With increased benefits for district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators, the City may be better able to attract and retain good, experienced employees.


Those who oppose this measure state:

  • District attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators would receive retirement benefits equivalent to those otherwise designed for public safety employees. The other categories of employees now in the PERS system are sheriffs, county peace officers (airport police, probation officers, juvenile court counselors, and district attorney investigators) and local police officers (institutional and harbor police). The concept behind these categories of employees receiving enhanced benefits are twofold: (1) their jobs are more dangerous than the jobs of other City employees; and (2) they should receive higher benefits at an earlier age to enable and encourage earlier retirement since their efficacy as public safety employees may decline with age. While district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators do face some employment hazards, such dangers are not as great as those of the other PERS employees, nor would the City benefit from their early retirement.
  • A large number of participants in the current Municipal Attorneys' Association bargaining unit (where the district attorneys, public defenders and public defender investigators are covered now)--primarily city attorneys--would not receive the enhanced PERS benefits, though they may have similar duties (e.g. deputy city attorneys also sometimes enforce criminal laws). This would result in inequitable treatment.
  • According to the analysis by the executive director of the City's Employees' Retirement System, CalPERS has stated that current law does not allow contract coverage for persons and positions not currently covered by CalPERS. If this is correct, the Charter amendment would be meaningless and ineffective unless State law were amended.
  • While the Charter amendment provides that any new contract with PERS under the amendment would have to be cost neutral to the City, such cost neutrality is difficult if not impossible to achieve. A cost analysis prepared by Tower Perrin (consulting actuary to the City) found that the total cost of the proposal to the City could be $4 million per year over the next 20 years.

SPUR's analysis

This Charter amendment would allow the Board to contract with PERS for the retirement benefits of district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators, so that these employees' benefits would be equivalent to the benefits currently received by police officers and firefighters. These employees' service retirement benefits would thus increase so that the age factor would be 2.4% at age 50 (an increase of 1.4%), with an increase to 3% at age 55 (an increase of 1.5%). The Charter amendment provides that any contract entered into by the City with PERS must be "cost neutral" to the City.

There is no overriding public interest in treating district attorneys, public defenders, and public defender investigators as public safety employees for retirement benefits purposes. This Charter amendment is likely to cost the City considerable money, which would be better spent on other purposes.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition B.

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