SAN DIEGO — Decisive victories for ballot proposals cutting retirement benefits for government workers in two of the nation's largest cities emboldened advocates seeking to curb pensions in state capitols and city halls across the country.
The voter responses in San Diego and San Jose were stinging setbacks for public employee unions, which also came up short on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's recall victory in Wisconsin.
"The message is that if elected officials and public employee unions do not responsibly deal with this issue, voters will take things into their own hands," said Thom Reilly, former chief executive of Clark County, Nev., now a professor of social work at San Diego State University. "We could see more draconian measures from citizens."
In San Diego, two-thirds of voters favored the pension reduction plan. And the landslide was even greater in San Jose, where 70 percent were in favor.
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a chief backer, said he was surprised by the margin of victory and considered it a statement that voters won't tolerate benefits that are more generous than those they receive working at private companies.
"It just shows the frustration people have with pension benefits that are out of control and taking away from city services," he said Wednesday.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat who called the overhaul his highest priority, said he expects other governments to follow their lead.
"Mayors across the country are very interested. We're at the leading edge but we're not alone," he said.
Labor unions in San Diego and San Jose — the nation's eighth- and 10th-largest cities — have launched potentially lengthy court challenges. The San Jose Police Officers Association filed a lawsuit in state court Wednesday, saying the measure violates vested rights.