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State Employee Pensions: Part of Budget Compromise?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, February 28, 2011

Following Wisconsin's example, Republican Assemblyman Alan Mansoor has introduced a bill that would eliminate collective bargaining for public employee pensions:

"We can see what collective bargaining has brought us in terms of the cost to our pension system through guaranteed benefits and we need to get back to a system that's more in line with the private sector."

The private sector is the model for another bill by Republican Senator Mimi Walters.  Right now public employees are guaranteed a certain pension.  Walters wants to change that to a 401K-style plan for new employees.  Walters says she's also looking at hybrid plans, which would be a mix of both:

"If we don't change the system, there's not going to be money in the future for those people that are relying on it when they retire."

Walters does not want pension reform to be tied in to a budget deal.  However, that idea has been floated at the Capitol as a way to secure Republican votes for a tax extension ballot measure.  Governor Jerry Brown hinted at the idea while responding a GOP lawmaker's question about pension reform during a recent legislative hearing:

"There are some issues here that are very politically dicey so that's why sometimes in the hothouse of crisis you can make some changes that you wouldn't otherwise be able to accomplish."

Ted Toppin is with the Professional Engineers in California Government, a public employee union. He says linking pension reform to a budget deal isn't right:

"There is no savings in this budget that can be provided by a pension deal. What they are trying to do is use it as a tool to punish public employees again."

The state's Little Hoover commission also recently weighed in on the issue, recommending that lawmakers also look at reducing current employee benefits - something sure to be challenged in court if lawmakers attempt it. 

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