Guest Opinion: Yes on Measure D

Time to stop giving arbiter power over city's finances

by Pat Burt and Larry Klein

On Nov. 8, the citizens of Palo Alto will be asked to make a critical decision affecting the long term financial health of our city. Binding arbitration for public safety employees is an outdated practice used by less than 5 percent of California cities. Surrounding communities of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park all negotiate fairly without binding arbitration.

Currently, third party arbiters get to make final decisions on critical issues that determine the financial well-being of our city. Unfortunately, these arbiters don't base their rulings on the financial consequences to the city nor do they weigh whether their ruling is fair to other employee groups. Arbiters don't consider whether an additional union benefit will mean that streets, parks, libraries and social services would suffer as a result.

Professional arbiters come primarily from union backgrounds. They may be third parties, but they are not neutral and they are typically biased towards the unions in their sympathies and their rulings. Over the years, the mere threat of arbitration has forced the city to make concessions that are fiscally unsound. The results of this system have been unsustainable:

• Pension costs for fire and police are up over 30 percent between 2009 and 2012. Currently, firemen earn a pension that is 3 percent of their highest years' salary multiplied by the number of years worked. This means that they can retire at 50 years old receiving 90 percent of their salary for life.

• Public safety expenses for the city rose 80 percent over the last decade while costs of other city departments have been nearly frozen.

The recent Santa Clara County Grand Jury report said that binding arbitration was contributing to unsustainable long term financial obligations for cities and they recommended specifically that Palo Alto end its use. Your city council is determined to not allow Palo Alto to slip into a crisis like we are seeing in San Jose and other cities.

The fire union strongly opposes Measure D. They will spend large amounts of money, hire lawyers and apply political pressure to defeat this measure. They have already tried to keep it off the ballot, they will spend freely to try to defeat it and then they will attempt to prevent it from being implemented after the election.

Public safety will remain the most important service Palo Alto provides its citizens. Our firefighters and police are valued members of the community. However, it is essential that your elected representatives have the ability to negotiate in good faith, but without handing final decision making authority to outsiders who don't have to live with the results.

Measure D is about fiscal responsibility. Palo Altans have been clear. They want their city government to reform its cost structure to match the economic realities we face. Measure D enables your elected officials to manage the fiscal future of Palo Alto while holding them accountable for the results.

Help us restore fiscal responsibility for Palo Alto. Vote for Measure D.

Pat Burt and Larry Klein are members of the Palo Alto City Council.

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