Tucsonans will decide this November if the city pension system gets overhauled or not.
The petition signatures collected by the Committee for Sustainable Retirement Benefits have been validated by the Pima County Recorder’s Office and the measure will now appear on the ballot. The recorder needed to verify a minimum of 12,730 valid signatures for the measure to qualify.
A consultant for the committee said even though they only had about a month to collect signatures, the need to repair a troubled pension system resonated with Tucsonans.
“It was very successful because it was a very popular issue.,” said Peter Zimmerman. “So it wasn’t difficult getting people to sign once they knew what the petition was” attempting to accomplish.
Zimmerman said the committee will now focus its efforts on getting the word out the public on why a change in pension systems is necessary.
At issue is whether the city should maintain its current guaranteed-benefit plan for non-public-safety employees, or switch to a 401(k)-type plan, in which how much an employee receives is based on what he or she contributes and how the market performs.
Backers say the change will protect current employee and retiree pensions by forcing the city to pay off its approximately $340 million unfunded pension liability sooner rather than later. It would also create a pay-as-you-go retirement system for new employees so the pension system won’t find itself in a hole again.
But top city officials have said even though the plan will save money somewhere in the distant future, the massive pension fund contributions required upfront will most likely drive the city into bankruptcy long before any savings are realized.
In the first year alone, they estimate it will cost an additional $24 million.