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With public-employee pension costs taking center stage for municipalities across the country, voters in two of California's biggest cities this month cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of curbing the benefits of such pensions in a calculated effort to cut local deficits.
The cities of San Diego and San Jose both passed far-reaching measures to curb pension spending by moving to cut benefits for not just future hires but also existing public employees, suggesting that voter sentiment favors strong reform sought by politicians on both sides of the political aisle, chief among them Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
North Bay locales are no stranger to the debate. Public officials, business leaders and unions have hotly debated the issue. But some experts viewed the votes of San Diego and San Jose -- traditionally a Democratic stronghold -- as a sign of things to come for other cities, perhaps even other states grappling with the same issue of unfunded or exceedingly expensive union pensions. San Diego passed a measure curbing pensions by a two-thirds majority, while San Jose's efforts passed with 70 percent of the vote.
Unions, for their part, have vowed to fight some -- though not all -- of the reforms, often saying that it's not pensions or public employees that caused the economic downturn. Several have suggested they would fight the measures in court after voters signed off on cost-cutting measures.
Many of the unions have agreed that the costs, and associated impact on city budgets, is an important matter to confront, but many have also disagreed with the way that costs should be dealt with.