Sen. Leland Yee joins ranks in opposition to health care-pension measure

Opponents of a controversial San Francisco budget reform measure that would raise city employee health care and pension contributions got the support today of another public official, state Sen. Leland Yee.

Proposition B, proposed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, has already been roundly condemned by many local elected officials and by unions representing the workers.

Particularly egregious, they say, would be raising the health care costs of city workers with children.

Supporters have argued that ballooning retirement and health care costs for city workers, most of which are paid by the city, are now threatening vital city services.

The city closed a $482 million deficit this year and is expected to face about a $400 million deficit next year, according to the controller's office.

Yee, D-San Francisco, was joined by members of the San Francisco firefighter's union this morning at an Inner Sunset street corner.

“The reality of that particular measure is that it's going to hurt our children, it's going to hurt the families of San Francisco,” Yee told reporters.

Opponents of Proposition B include Mayor Gavin Newsom, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and District Attorney Kamala Harris.

The unions representing city workers have also mounted a fierce campaign against the measure, arguing today it is a “wolf in sheep's clothing.”

Adachi has promoted the measure as “pension reform,” but opponents point out the savings would come mainly from raising the health care contributions of employees. It follows two other voter-approved initiatives to reform city pensions, in 2008 and earlier this year.

The city controller's office has said that 70 percent of the estimated $120 million — down from Adachi's estimate of $170 million — that Proposition B would save the city annually would come from health care.

Yee acknowledged that pension reform is needed, but he said Proposition B would end up driving more working families out of San Francisco.

Yee said the problem was one “created over the years” at City Hall.

“You create that problem, you fix it, but don't put it on the backs of working-class families,” Yee said.

He suggested continuing negotiations with unions, cutting government costs, and creating new revenues, but he did not provide specifics.

“You've got to somehow bring the different factions together and work something out,” he said.

According to Proposition B spokeswoman Darcy Brown, unions are “objecting to the notion that the taxpayers of San Francisco have the right to decide where their money goes and how it goes.”

Brown said the money saved by Proposition B could be used to fund social programs, pave city streets, and maintain San Francisco Recreation & Parks facilities.

Instead, the city has recently had to shutter some services and raise parking rates, she said.

“We're starting to segregate the city from people,” Brown said. “It's starting to become the haves and the have-nots.”

In addition to Adachi, former supervisor and candidate for mayor Matt Gonzalez and former Mayor Willie Brown support Proposition B. San Francisco venture capitalist Michael Moritz funded the successful petition drive for the proposition.

Most elected officials have come out against Proposition B “because they need labor to get elected and keep their jobs,” Brown asserted.

Proposition B would raise contributions by the approximately 26,000 city employees for dependent health care from 25 percent to 50 percent, “Which is a nominal fee, compared with the private sector,” Brown said.

The city would still pay all the employees' individual health care costs.

The measure would also boost the amount of pay employees contribute to the city's pension fund from 7.5 percent to 9 percent. Police and firefighters would contribute 10 percent of their pay.

Privately, opponents are worried that voters will welcome Proposition B as a responsible solution to the city's budget difficulties. It requires a simple majority of votes to pass.

“We are going to run an aggressive political campaign that won't pull any punches,” promised Nathan Ballard, a Democratic strategist for the No on B campaign and former Newsom spokesman, following today's event.

The campaign has just begun airing TV spots and has been leafleting and sending out mailers.

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