This story is part of the California's Pension Crisis Project, a reporting collaboration between Capital Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times and CALmatters to explore the consequences of a historic expansion of retirement benefits for California public employees.
Cities and states across the country are facing public employee pension debt that is challenging and, in some cases, crippling their budgets. But some municipalities are experimenting with ways to solve that problem. In San Jose, California, voters passed a set of sweeping pension reforms back in 2012. The public employee unions fought back in court. Now a new initiative passed this November may offer a compromise that works.
It’s a rainy day in October. Three recruiting officers from the San Jose Police Department are standing behind a table in a bustling room on a nearby public university campus. Today is the school’s career fair and the SJPD booth is covered in schwag--stickers, pens, even tiny bottles of hand sanitizer--emblazoned with the Department’s logo. They’re hoping job-seekers will stop and apply.
Deputy Chief, Michael Knox says staffing numbers are at a dangerous low. In fact, he says they’re down at least 300 street-ready officers right now. “It causes us to put an enormous amount of stress on the existing staff,” Knox says “to make up for everyone who has left this department.”
He blames the exodus mostly on a watershed moment back in 2012. That’s when San Jose voters passed local ballot measure B. The initiative poured vinegar into the sweet tea of public worker compensation deals by making sweeping cuts to retirement pensions. Current employees would have to pay more for their retirement benefits or take a less generous pension. New employees would be offered less. All public workers would lose their disability protections as well the certainty of their pensions, altogether if there was a fiscal emergency.