Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

This piece in the Sacramento Bee is remarkable for many reasons. First, the strangeness of which he freely acknowledges, Dan Walters praises the city government of San Francisco:

The liberal bastion of San Francisco might seem to be the last place to discover hardheaded realism on public employee pensions and health care, but if Proposition B on Tuesday’s ballot is endorsed by city voters, it may point the way for other entities.

Proposition B grapples with the unfunded liability of employee retiree health benefits:

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd hammered out an agreement with city employee unions that freezes wages for two years and sharply tightens eligibility for retiree health care benefits for future employees in return for a fairly modest increase in city pension benefits – and then won a unanimous vote by the city’s notoriously fractious Board of Supervisors to place it on the ballot.

But the shocker for me was the extravagant benefits that the city was already providing:

Current city employees can obtain fully paid lifetime health benefits after only five years on the payroll, but under the agreement affecting future workers, it would take 20 years on the job to get full benefits. And new employees would also have to pay, through payroll deductions, two-thirds of the cost of those future benefits.

Five years! I thought that the SCVWD’s former ten year requirement was generous. Five years is insane!

The article also contains this telling fact:

San Francisco’s pension benefits are markedly less generous than those of many other cities, largely because any change must be ratified by voters. With that restriction, San Francisco politicians were unable to boost benefits sharply when the stock market boomed in the 1990s, as the state and many local governments did. As a result, the city’s pension fund enjoys a healthy surplus.

Ultimately, the public pays for all of this. Elected officials can grant chunks of public money that keep paying out long after they have left office, but the public will always get the bill. Voters need a greater say in how their money is spent.