Our Helix Water District Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on an 8.8% increase in water rates this Wednesday (August 18th). It seems like we are bombarded by tax and rate increases. For example, the recent State of California 1% sales tax increase; the recent City of La Mesa 0.75% sales tax increase; two recent increases in the City of El Cajon sales tax; the City of San Diego proposed 0.5% increase in sales tax; and the narrowly rejected 0.5% sales tax increase in Lemon Grove.
These seemingly small increases in our taxes, taken by them selves, will not send most of us to bankruptcy court. On the other hand, they are not nearly so innocuous - especially when taken together - as public employee unions and elected officials would have us believe.
Take, for example, the small (0.75%) Prop L sales tax increase in La Mesa. It was estimated that it would raise about $7 million - in fact the actual figure was closer to $6 million because of the slowdown. That $6 million comes from tax payers pockets. It equates to a little over $100 yearly from every resident (even the newest baby) of our city - $400 for a family of four. Those who favored the tax increase reminded us that if we wanted services (fending off gangs and fixing potholes) we had to pay for them. Nothing was said about the cost of the unreasonable pensions the public sector unions and the City Council had negotiated. A majority of us, good citizens all, voted to increase our sales tax.
As the Union Tribune pointed out before the election, reducing those overly generous La Mesa public sector pensions to a reasonable amount would have just about eliminated the need for the tax increase. Making pensions reasonable for State and City and District governments statewide can save an estimated $500 Billion over a 30-year period! That is enough to make a difference - even in California.
We face a similar (to the La Mesa tax increase) situation today. Our elected representatives - the Board of Directors at HWD - want to increase water rates to, at least in part, support pensions far more generous than those provided to most private sector workers.
I recently sent the HWD Board members a letter asking that pension costs be reduced before they vote to increase our water rates. I favor providing fair pensions for public sector employees. Pensions should be sufficient for a "full career" employee to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed while working. It is fundamentally unfair to ask the ratepayers to provide any more than that. I specifically asked that the Board make the following two reductions in pension costs before increasing water rates: (1) eliminate the requirement that ratepayers pay the "employee portion" of CalPers pension costs. Just like with Social Security, employees are supposed to pay part of CalPers pension costs. They need to start doing so - now! (2) offer new hires a less generous CalPers plan that is available for those who also receive Social Security. That plan will allow a full career employee, who is also receiving Social Security, to maintain pre retirement lifestyle. It will, at the same time, treat ratepayers fairly. A defined contribution plan is an acceptable alternative.
I ask those of you who agree with me come to the rate increase hearing at 2:00 p.m. next Wednesday and let the board know how you feel. We need to stop the madness in public sector pensions that is destroying the financial viability of virtually every public sector organization in our state.