City of Tucson Pension Reform Initiative, Proposition 201 (November 2013)
A City of Tucson Pension Reform Initiative, Proposition 201 will not be on the November 5, 2013 ballot for voters in the City of Tucson in Pima County, Arizona. Initiative organizers turned in 23,364 signatures on the morning of July 2, which yielded more than the 12,730 valid signatures required. The proposition was ordered off the ballot by an injunction from the Arizona Supreme Court after a lawsuit was filed to have signatures collected by alleged felons thrown out of the petition. The court has not yet given its final decision about the fate of Proposition 201. It could be put on a later ballot or thrown out all together. The Committee for Sustainable Retirement has pledged to continue its effort to reform the Tucson pension system.
Supporters of the initiative referred to it as the Sustainable Retirement Benefits Act.
If adopted by the city's voters, the initiative will amend chapter XXIII of the Tucson City Charter. Currently the city operates on a defined benefit plan in which employees contribute a portion of their income and are guaranteed a fixed retirement check. If the city's investments do not earn enough to provide these benefits, the city taxpayers make up the difference. Under the plan proposed by this initiative measure, new non-public-safety employees would have a defined contribution plan, in which they would still put money into their retirement funds, but their benefits would depend on how much they contribute and how successful the city's investments are.
The city has a $940 million retirement fund, which is currently underfunded by 37%. Regina Romera, the vice-mayor of Tucson, said in May 2013 that the city is facing a $15 million budget gap due to the escalating cost of retirement benefits. She also indicated that the city's pension expenses have increased by about 250 percent since 2003 and that it is leaving 1,000 city positions unfilled because of its pension obligations.
Supporters say that the changes they are proposing will protect the retirement benefits of current retirees, while establishing city contribution caps for new city hires to protect taxpayers against ballooning pension and health benefit costs.
Text of measure
|“||An initiative measure amending the Tucson City Charter, chapter XXIII, relating to pension funds and adopting the sustainable retirement benefits act; protecting the rights of current employees in the Tucson Supplemental Retirement System; providing a retirement plan for future hires; providing for future termination of Tucson Supplemental Retirement System when it has no more participants or liabilities.||”|
Click here for the full text of the initiative measure.
The proposed pension reform initiative is sponsored by a group called "The Committee for Sustainable Retirement in Support of Initiative Petition Number 2013I004 and in Support of the Ballot Measure". The president of the committee is Joseph Larusso and the treasurer is Jack Heather. The initiative procurers are Ronald Michaels, Peter Zimmerman and Carol Zimmerman.
Arguments in favor
Supporters argue that the defined benefit plan currently in force in the City of Tucson is not sustainable. They say that in order to make up the 37% shortfall in the current plan, the city will either have to hike taxes on city residents or cut city services. Supporters also argue that their proposed initiative will provide a sustainable option for the city similar to many found in the private sector that will provide benefits to city employees without putting taxpayers or the city in financial danger.
Zimmerman said: "In our mind, everybody wins on this thing. The employees will still have their pensions and it will save taxpayer money in the long run and we won't have to cut city services if people don't want to raise taxes."
In response to accusations that Proposition 201 will likely bankrupt the city, Paul Jacob, president of the Liberty Initiative Fund said, "These promises have already been made. An initiative … that stops a city from making promises it can't keep ... is not going to bankrupt any city. It's going to put a city on solid, financial footing. And to suggest otherwise is to kind of suggest you've been making bankrupting promises."
Through early July 2013, these donations have been received by the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits:
Some city officials are concerned that if this initiative is approved, it will put a financial strain on the city because under the initiative, pension payouts to current employees and retirees must still be made from the city's retirement fund, but new hires would no longer be contributing to this fund. Finance Director Kelly Gottschalk is among these and has estimated that if Proposition 201 is implemented the city's pension system would cost taxpayers $24 million extra in the first year alone and tens of millions more each year for more than a decade. She expressed concerns that the city's pension system would collapse before it could see any benefit from the reform. City Councilman Steve Kozachik wrote the following in an email about the initiative: "No two pensions are alike in terms of the demographics of the participants. What this group is doing is proposing a one-size-fits-all solution in several different states. I've looked at the petition language and the fundamental question it leaves unanswered is how they're going to protect the General Fund from collapsing under the weight of people opting out of the current plan. You don't kill the patient in order to cure the disease. Unless they can explain how collapsing the system is going to save it, I'm not on board with what they're proposing."
Path to the ballot
On the morning of July 2, petition organizers turned in 23,364 signatures, which were then validated by the city clerk and the Pima County recorder. Reacting to the abundant signatures gathered, Zimmerman said, "We had a very good response from the public. They are anxious to see some resolution to this issue."
The Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits spent roughly $90,000 on its effort to collect the approximately 23,000 signatures it submitted to qualify the measure for the ballot. This comes to about $3.91/signature. For statewide initiatives in Arizona in 2012, the average signature cost for signatures on initiative petitions was $3.70.
Some signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot were collected by Zimmerman and Associates, which is a paid petition drive management company. Before signatures were turned in Zimmerman said that, although there was a tight deadline, he believed the petition would be successful since there had been 12 paid circulators collecting signatures since June 1.
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Details of the citizen initiative process in Tucson:
The City of Tucson is a charter city. Section 1(8) of Article IV and Section 2 of Article XIII of the Arizona Constitution establish procedures for amending city charters for any charter city in Arizona.
Article IV says (in part), " The powers of the initiative and the referendum are hereby further reserved to the qualified electors of every incorporated city, town, and county as to all local, city, town, or county matters on which such incorporated cities, towns, and counties are or shall be empowered by general laws to legislate." Article XIII says (in part): "The charter so ratified may be amended by amendments proposed and submitted by the legislative authority of the city to the qualified electors thereof (or by petition as hereinafter provided), at a general or special election, and ratified by a majority of the qualified electors voting thereon and approved by the governor as herein provided for the approval of the charter."
Tucson has additional provisions for ordinance initiative and referendum only. The city of Tucson computes the requisite signature percentages of voters based on the vote for the candidates for mayor at the last preceding general municipal election at which a mayor was elected (Tucson Charter, Chap. XIX, Sec. 1). The form of a petition is established in the Tucson Charter, Chap. XIX, Sec. 2. On the filing of a successful petition, the council may pass the measure or proceed to call a special election. (Tucson Charter, Chap. XIX, Sec. 3)
The measure was blocked from the November ballot by a court ordered injunction from the Arizona Court of Appeals, which overturned the Judge James Marner's previous decision in Pima County Superior Court. In Marner's original ruling condemned signatures were thrown out and 13,777 remaining signatures were found to be valid. This was in surplus of the required signature count by about 1,000 signatures.
The Committee's response
The Committee for Sustainable Retirement released a statement after the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling to block Prop. 201 from the ballot:
|“||The Arizona Supreme Court has determined that the Committee’s petition for review of the court of appeals decision in PARKER et al v TUCSON/COMMITTEE FOR SUSTAINABLE; CV-13-0288-PR will be considered at a later date, presumably after the court of appeals issues its written opinion. In the meantime, the Supreme Court has concluded that the initiative should not be on the November ballot. Once the court of appeals issues its opinion, the Committee will consult with its attorneys as to next steps.||”|
The full story
On July 22, a phoenix based attorney Roopali H. Desai representing two city employees filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get Proposition 201 thrown off of the November ballot. The lawsuit alleged that thousands of signatures used to validate the initiative petition should be invalidated because they were collected by out-of-state circulators or by people with felonies who had not had there civil rights restored.
Peter Zimmerman, one of the people behind the initiative, responded to the lawsuit, saying, "This is clearly an effort to obfuscate the issue. The petition effort was carefully conducted and the offices of the City Clerk and County Recorder rigorously examined the signatures, ultimately concluding that the submittal exceeded the minimum requirements by more than 40%. The 23,000 people who signed the petition deserve to see this issue on the November ballot. Let the voters decide."
Lawyers from both sides of the debate argued on August 3 over where the burden of proof belonged. Desai argued that the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits had to prove that all of those circulating signature petitions were qualified to do so. He called on a private investigator who testified that he was unable to find any record of civil rights restoration for the circulators with felonies. But Lisa Hauser, an attorney on the side of the initiative, asserted that the burden of proof lay on the accusers to show evidence of invalid signature collection. She brought up the variety of different requirements for restoration found in different states and showed that the investigator was unaware of many of them. The hearing was scheduled to continue on the morning of Tuesday, August 6.
On August 16, Judge James Marner threw out about 5,000 initiative petition signatures because they were collected by felons with unrestored rights and registration errors. Marner sent the rest of the signatures back to the city and county elections offices for re-validation. The lawsuit had originally sought to have over 10,000 signatures thrown out, but the court found allegations against several circulators to be unsubstantiated. The initiative had gained an estimated 17,668 valid signatures, when it needed only 12,730. It was estimated by supporters that there will be enough valid signatures left over after Judge Marner's ruling to keep the measure on the November ballot. The deadline to complete the new random sample was August 23.
Lisa T. Hauser, an attorney for the Committee for Sustainable Benefits, had this to say about the lawsuit: “It appears that the number of signatures disqualified by the court will fall short of what the plaintiffs needed to remove the initiative from the ballot — even if a new random sample is conducted. We are pleased that most of (the) plaintiffs’ allegations about unqualified circulators were rejected by the court. Even so, it also appears that some of the findings made against the committee were erroneous and that the number of disqualified signatures should be much lower.”
After the condemned signatures were thrown out and the validity percentage was recalculated for the remaining signatures, 13,777 were found to be valid. Giving the initiative about a thousand surplus signatures. The Judge ordered Proposition 202 to be returned to the ballot. Opponents, however, appealed the decision in the Arizona Supreme Court, which overturned Judge Marner's decision and ordered an injunction to block the proposition from the ballot. The Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits appealed this decision and the court will consider the case again at a later date. The Committee is waiting for the release of the written opinion of the court to decide its next course of action.
- YES on Prop 201 website
- The full text of the Initiative for the "Sustainable Retirement Benefits Act"
- Tucson Pension Reform, website of the organization that supports the initiative
- Tucson City elections department website
- Tucson City Charter
- Retirement Funds/City of Tucson
- Source: This information was given to Ballotpedia staff by organizers of the initiative.
- Tucson Weekly, "RoboCop Beats Kromko on Technicality," July 25, 2013
- Statement Released by the Committee on September 16, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "Public vote sought to rein in city pensions", June 6, 2013
- KJZZ, "Tucson faces $15 million budget shortfall", March 18, 2013
- Full text of the initiative (in some cases, text in all caps in the official language was changed to upper-and-lower case text for ease of reading
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Blog for Arizona, "Out-of-state right-wing organization behind public employee pension initiative in Tucson", June 6, 2013
- Tucson Weekly, "New Initative Would Scrap Tucson's Pension Program", June 5, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "Initiative to change pension system could bankrupt city, Tucson official warns," January 29, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "Pension reform group spends $90,000-plus on petitions," July 11, 2013
- Tucson Weekly, "Campaign Group Turns in Pension Initiative Signatures," July 2, 2013
- Tucson Initiative and Referendum Signature Requirements and Deadlines
- Arizona Daily Star, "Petitions to change city's pension system are filed," July 3, 2013
- Pima County Arizona Superior Court ruling case number C20134029, September 3, 2013 (available at courthouse)
- Arizona Daily Star, "City pension initiative officially makes ballot," September 3, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "Appeals court rules city pension overhaul off ballot," September 13, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "Signatures are focus in Tucson city pension suit," August 3, 2013
- Arizona Daily Star, "City of Tucson's pension initiative loses thousands of signatures," August 20, 2013