SD Mayor Candidates Debate Pension Woes

October 13, 2005 ( - Competing San Diego mayoral candidates each insist that only they have the secret for turning around the city's plethora of financial woes, including a $1.4-billion pension deficit.

The debate between Donna Frye and Jerry Sanders has been a pointed one at times with Frye accusing her opponent of putting out numbers about the fiscal effect of his proposals that “just don’t add up,” said the San Diego Union Tribune. Meanwhile Sanders has called Frye’s plan “reckless.”

Frye released her  Triple-A plan on September 23. Sanders unveiled his  Action Plan for Recovery   five days later.

The centerpiece of both reform plans is the city’s much troubled and scandal ridden pension that has generated red-hot controversy as well as local and federal investigations for years.

Sanders, the former San Diego police chief, would also eliminate the current retirement system for future employees, freeze wages and ask voters to privatize some city services.

The Two Plans

The Sanders Plan asks voters to approve a charter change authorizing an “affordable” pension plan that combines a less costly ‘safety net” defined benefit plan with a new defined contribution plan. Sanders said this will significantly reduce the city’s cost and exposure.   As part of this plan, voters will be asked to establish a requirement that city-funded pension benefits cannot be increased without approval from a majority of the electorate, according to Sanders’ announcement.

Meanwhile, Frye’s plan calls for moving the administration of the retirement system to the state, and the elimination of certain pension benefit enhancements that City Attorney Michael Aguirre has said were granted illegally (See  San Diego City Attorney Calls Pension Credit Purchase Illegal  ). However, Sanders charged that Frye “continues to mislead the public,” by stating that she has the authority to unilaterally roll back pension benefits; Sanders has said only a judge can determine the legality of benefits

Frye has also proposed:

  • adjusting the benefits for current employees to “levels the city can afford to pay”
  • putting an annual cap on the percentage of total General Fund Revenue which can be used for employee salary and benefits
  • requiring a vote by the public to increase retirement benefits
  • making all actuarially required payments to the pension system.

Frye and Sanders are seeking to replace Dick Murphy, who resigned as San Diego’s mayor amid the city’s mounting financial problems (See   San Diego’s Murphy: ‘The city needs a fresh start’ ).