Politicians and officials have notoriously kicked the can down the road on fiscal issues, especially with pensions and health care costs for government workers. There have been stark examples of what imprudent short-term thinking can do to a city — just look at Stockton and Detroit.
San Francisco has done an exemplary job in recent years of getting its finances in order, both through legislation and ballot measures, despite its national reputation for being the home of tax-and-spend liberals.
Voting yes on Proposition A on the November ballot would be another way to further the financial improvements in The City.
Starting in 2009, new municipal employees started contributing to the Retiree Health Care Trust Fund, which pays for the benefits of former city and county workers. Yet despite the increased contributions, San Francisco continues to pay about $150 million a year from its general fund toward retiree health costs. That contribution is expected to grow to anywhere from $250 million to $450 million per year.
Prop. A is a smart, fiscally sound proposal that would prevent the health care fund from being spent on anything but retiree health care until it is fully funded. In the plainest terms, the measure creates a lockbox that cannot be raided by future officials or lawmakers.
According to the budget analyst’s report for the measure, “The restrictions would ensure that the Trust Fund more rapidly accumulates sufficient funding and investment earnings to pay for required City retiree health costs and would therefore reduce the burden of these costs on the City’s annual budget.”
The proposition, brought forward by Supervisor Mark Farrell after extensive negotiations with labor and other interested parties, was put on the ballot with unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors.
The thorough vetting of the proposal shows there is even an escape clause should San Francisco need money because of an emergency in the future. But the means to extract the funds would need so much support between elected and appointed officials that it ensures the process would only be invoked in a true fiscal emergency such as in the aftermath of a massive earthquake.
Prop. A is not the cure-all for the looming issues surrounding spending for employee health care in San Francisco. But it is a solid fiscal measure that will help eliminate the $4.4 billion in unfunded retiree health care liabilities.