The Corner

San Jose and San Diego Turn Right

Wisconsin’s recall election wasn’t the only drubbing unions received last night. Two major California cities that backed Barack Obama in 2008 — San Jose and San Diego — approved by greater than two-to-one margins ballot initiatives curbing the power of unions by limiting future public-pension costs. San Diego also easily passed a ban on most project labor agreements which effectively mandate union wage scales for public construction projects.

Marcia Fritz, head of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, told me that “passing these measures could spur a nationwide movement giving local governments new tools when they go underwater fiscally.” She pointed out that in San Jose, the prime mover of the measure was Democratic mayor Chuck Reed, who took the issue to the people after his city council refused to approve his plans. Reed’s argument was simple: The city can no longer pay for basic services if so much of its revenue goes for the exorbitantly padded pensions of public employees.

Steve Maviglio, the spokesman for the public-sector union group Californians for Retirement Security, agreed with Fritz. Speaking to the San Jose Mercury News before the vote he warned, “If these measure pass by wide margins, it opens the door for communities around the state to engage in these ballot-box negotiations, which are harmful to the workforce.”

San Diego, the nation’s 10th largest city, will also see an epic showdown between a young taxpayer advocate and an aging liberal lion this November, in its mayor’s race. City Councilman Carl DeMaio won first place in last night’s primary. He is the primary author of the ballot measure to limit pensions, and has won kudos from taxpayers for supporting privatization efforts. He will face off against 69-year-old congressman Bob Filner, a liberal Democrat, who seems locked in the New Deal mindset he was born into.  Republicans also did well in the city-council races last night, and if they can win a critical runoff in the La Jolla area this November, they will take effective control of the city council for the first time in decades. 

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