Just when we thought we were out, they pull us back in.
Pension reform has been an ugly political battle in San Jose for the last half-decade, but it seemed we had moved beyond the acrimony of Measure B after all of the city’s unions came to settlement agreements in the last year. The city’s plan was to put a measure on the November ballot ratifying these agreements.
And then Pete Constant walked back into the picture.
The former San Jose councilman and advisor to the mayor filed an application in court Wednesday with Steven Haug, treasurer of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, to intervene in the quo warranto action. The challenge has the financial backing of GOP billionaire Charles Munger Jr.’s organization, Hold Politicians Accountable.
Essentially, Constant and company are arguing that only voters—not the city—have the right to change the terms of Measure B, since voters were the ones who passed pension reforms in 2012.
“I gave [the mayor] a heads-up on Monday, gave him 48 hours notice,” Constant told San Jose Inside. “My goal is not to blindside the city. They know I disagree with their actions.”
What was the mayor’s reaction?
“He, surprisingly, was not angry,” Constant said. “Disappointed, he did express his disappointment. He thinks this is going to hurt them in their attempts to hire more police officers and build up public safety. But I think the council gave up its right by going to the voters, and they promised they would return to the voters if making any changes to pension benefits. What I’m saying is: the process is not what we told the voters, and they deserve a say. I don’t think the council has the legal authority to do this, because the voters took that right away from them.”
In a brief phone call Thursday, Mayor Liccardo called the legal challenge a “bump in the road” that only stalls progress in implementing roughly 80 percent of Measure B’s savings—$3 billion over 30 years—and hundreds of millions more for retiree health benefits.
But it also stalls efforts to build up the police department, which is why Chief Eddie Garcia called a press conference yesterday demanding a swift ending of Measure B. The next academy has a reported seven recruits, and there are only 839 “street ready officers,” according to the department. Constant’s actions have reportedly scared off candidates from joining or returning to the force.
“It delays our ability to do a settlement for everyone,” Liccardo said of the intervention. “It delays new recruits, officers who want to return—we’re hearing from literally dozens of officers who want to return to San Jose.”
Constant now lives in Roseville and handles pension reform issues for the Reason Foundation, a conservative think tank. His investment in Measure B was substantial, as he and the mayor were two of the biggest City Council proponents of Mayor Chuck Reed’s pension reform push back in 2012. Since becoming mayor, however, Liccardo has distanced himself from the original language of the measure, and the city’s negotiated settlement agreements actually have the backing of Reed.
“The reality is this legal maneuver is being done by a couple folks who don’t live in San Jose, don’t count on emergency services for 9-1-1 calls and don’t pay taxes,” Liccardo said.
Here is the complaint to intervene filed by Pete Constant and Steven Haug.