SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis announced her support Thursday for a proposed ballot initiative that would reform retirement benefits for city employees.
Dumanis' position on the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative is a partial about-face for the candidate, who is currently the district attorney of San Diego County.
She initially supported most of its provisions, with the exception of having new firefighters taken out of the pension system and given 401(k) programs when the same thing would not happen to police officers.
Dumanis said her concerns were allayed when she learned firefighters could be offered an annuity instead.
"A safety net is possible, with no extra costs to the taxpayers," she said.
Supporters believe the initiative, which has yet to qualify for the ballot, would save the city at least $1.2 billion through 2040.
Nearly all new employees, except police officers, would receive 401(k) accounts instead of being enrolled in the debt-ridden pension system. City officials believe first-responders should be given more certainty in their benefits because they put their lives on the line.
If the proposed initiative makes it to the ballot and is approved by voters, the firefighter annuity would be an option for the mayor when the provisions are implemented. Dumanis said she would take advantage of the option.
"I have the greatest respect for firefighters, lifeguards and police officers, and I've worked with them for 38 years and I will continue to work with them," Dumanis said. "But I also have to be realistic in a budget situation that requires reform."
Frank DeClercq, president of the firefighters' union, said the language of the proposed measure is "ambiguous" and does not spell out the terms or amounts of the annuity arrangement.
He called the initiative an "end run" around the City Council.
Besides shifting new workers to 401(k) accounts, the initiative would also freeze for five years the amount of pay used to calculate pensions for current employees -- they would still receive raises and bonuses, but that extra money would not be figured into retirement pay.
Dumanis' competition in the mayoral primary next June includes Councilman Carl DeMaio; Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego.
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