Calif. voters cut city workers' pension benefits

Voters agree to slash pensions for some city workers in California.
CBS News

(CBS News) SAN JOSE, Calif. - Voters in two of California's biggest cities have overwhelmingly decided that pensions for retirees - including cops and firefighters - should be cut.

It was a blowout in both San Diego and San Jose where employees will have to pay up to 16 percent more out of their salaries or accept smaller retirement checks.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed ran for re-election on a promise of pension reform in California.

San Diego, San Jose voters embrace pension cuts

"In the first year of implementation it will save about $25 million. That number will go up every year for about 40 years," said Reed.

More than enough to dig the city out of deficit. In San Diego, employees will be forced into a personal 401(k) stock plan instead of a guaranteed pension. That city pays $231 million a year towards pensions, 20 percent of its budget.

In San Diego, employees will be forced into a personal 401(k) stock plan instead of guaranteed pensions.

In San Jose, 27 percent of the budget goes to its general pensions. The city built libraries they can't fill with books and a police station they can't open because there isn't enough money. San Jose detective Michael Wittington said he doesn't make enough money.

"I had to put off having a family, put off buying a home," said Det. Wittington. "I had to short-sell my home two years ago."

Right now San Jose matches half of Wittington's salary toward his pension. He pays 11 percent but that will rise to 27 percent if he wants to keep the most generous pension.

"I'm not going to lie; it's been very stressful for us," Wittington said.

Leaders in other cities have been watching closely. Public pensions in California have a shortfall of more than $400 billion. These are not the only cities to vote on pension reform, but they are among the biggest, and they may encourage others to try. But it is not easy. Some of these benefits are locked in by law, and already unions in San Jose announced they're going to sue to stop Tuesday's vote.