Bankrupt San Bernardino Attempts to Address Inability to Actually Negotiate Public Safety Wages

They can't even afford having a first floor.San Bernardino, California,
announced it was
in 2012, and in 2013 a
judge agreed
. San Bernardino suffers many of the same problems
ailing municipalities across the country face—huge pension
obligations that are either unsustainable or that the city simply
ignored in favor of cronyist economic development projects (or
oftentimes both).

San Bernardino, though, also has additional twist that is
hamstringing any effort to actually balance its budget: The city
has no real control over the wages for its public safety employees.
The city’s charter requires that the city set its wages for its
police and fire employees based on the average wages for public
safety employees in nearby cities of similar sizes. The big problem
here is that San Bernardino is the poorest of these cities. It’s
considered one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the country,
next to Detroit. As a result, public safety employee wages, usually
the biggest expense in any city’s budget, were completely out of
their hands. Even during bankruptcy proceedings, the city council
handing out raises
to the police, blaming the city charter’s

Following recent elections, which have resulted in almost a
complete turnover in city leadership, the new city council voted
unanimously this week to put several changes to the city’s charter
on the ballot for public vote. Among the changes will be the
removal of this charter rule, known as Section 186. Instead, the
city will set wages through collective bargaining, the way many
other cities do. This obviously doesn’t necessarily make everything
better. Many cities have been more than willing to capitulate to
unreasonable employee union demands anyway. But it at least puts
the city in a position to actually say no. Ryan Hagen, covering
city government for The Sun in San Bernardino,
that the president of the local police union is
looking for ways to kill the effort to replace the rule.

about the particulars of San Bernardino’s troubles in the
November 2013 issue of Reason. Last week, Kennedy and
Reason contributor Steven Greenhut
looked at the city’s woes during an episode of The
. Enjoy below:

from Hit & Run

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