Mahan: We can reward our workers without punishing our residents — San José Spotlight

Mayor Matt Mahan
4 min readAug 6, 2023

Our city has incredible workers and they deserve a raise. And that is exactly what we have proposed to do-provide a fair raise that helps our city workforce keep up with inflation without requiring the city to cut services, raise taxes or take on any new unfunded debts.

We all know times are tough. For our families and for our city. The experts are telling us to prepare for a nationwide recession and our budget office has forecast a $19 million budget deficit next year.

That’s why we need to be careful with every dollar-and be honest with the residents of San Jose. We have proposed a 5% raise this year, which matches the agreement unions just struck with the county, and will keep our workers’ compensation competitive with that offered by comparable cities.

If the city council wants to go beyond the city’s last, best and final offer in this fiscal year, there will be tradeoffs.

The union’s current ask for just the first year of the three-year contract would add $14.4 million to the city’s budget on an ongoing (i.e. annual) basis. The city council would have to reopen the balanced budget we just finalized and figure out what to cut to cover this $14.4 million expense.

What would we have to cut?

Firing 70 police officers would save us $14.4 million.

But we already experience long wait times for emergency response. How can we ask the family whose house is being broken into to wait precious minutes for help to come?

We can’t.

Closing two-thirds of the city’s community centers would settle the bill.

But what do we say to the grandma who eats free lunch every weekday at the Seven Trees Community Center because her Social Security dollars just don’t spread as far as they used to?

Maybe we could shut down our Animal Care and Services Center, which would cover 80% of the cost.

But what would we do with the over 800 dogs, cats and rabbits who call our shelter home?

These are impossible tradeoffs to make-and in order to be fair to everyone we have to acknowledge that we can’t print money. If we raise wages more than 5% this year, we will need to take commensurate funding away from vital services. And personally, I am not willing to vote for an increase that requires cuts to core city services.

While we have already settled new, fair contracts at the city’s proposed pay level with four unions this year, the remaining unions that have yet to agree to contract terms are asking for an 18% raise over three years: 7% the first year, 6% the second and 5% the third. The city’s overall offer would see their salaries increase 12% over three years: 5%, 4%, and 3%, respectively. Our proposal also includes an additional three weeks of paid parental leave.

It’s worth noting that our offer is the same or better than the average proposal offered by public employers across the Bay Area, and we are proud to have a lower vacancy rate than a majority of comparative cities and counties.

These unions seem to believe that we have a big bucket of unaccounted for savings at the end of each year-and I wish this were true. They cite information from prior annual reports about expenditure savings when comparing the budget to actual spending, but they don’t talk about the difference between estimated and actuals. As discussed in those very same annual reports, the city already estimates these savings as part of the development of the following year’s budget. The vast majority of the savings generated each budget cycle must be carried forward into the following year to finish projects and programs already in progress and not yet complete.

While we are clearly at an impasse, it’s concerning that these unions walked away from mediation after just the first meeting and without putting new ideas on the table.

Mediation, which allows both parties to creatively and confidentially explore solutions, is our best path to a real resolution that balances the needs of workers and our residents. We should, for example, be looking at options for boosting pay in the out years if revenues come in higher than expected and the city has budget surpluses. Or perhaps one-time payments that put dollars in workers’ pockets without increasing our unfunded pension liabilities.

There is still hope for a solution that is fair to everyone-and I very much hope the unions that have not settled will agree to return to mediation so we can explore these options.

And in the meantime, we will continue to be responsible with your tax dollars so that we can reward our workers without punishing our residents.

Matt Mahan is mayor of San Jose.

Originally published at https://sanjosespotlight.com on August 6, 2023.

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Mayor Matt Mahan

Mayor, San Jose. Former D10 Councilmember, Brigade CEO & Co-founder, SVLG and Joint Venture Silicon Valley Boards, and SJ Clean Energy Commission