Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman told The Sacramento Bee editorial board this morning that, if elected, she'll negotiate with the three biggest public employee unions to create 401(k)-style retirement plans for new state workers.
She also said she would "take a whack" at reining in the state's prison costs, including moving prisoners to other states and cutting prison health care costs.
She added that she would seek pension reforms for prison guards and other public safety employees. Whitman also said she could see building another prison if elected governor but would try to avoid building a new "death row" prison.
"Part of the reason we find ourselves in the situation we now find ourselves in is we had banked on a very high investment portfolio return, which didn't materialize, and now we are on the hook for defined benefits, very generous defined benefits, to not only the prison guards but all the others," Whitman said. "We have got to renegotiate these benefits. And I will negotiate in good faith with all the different unions."
In response to a question from the editorial board, Whitman also said she wanted to "look at what the opportunities are for privatizing the prisons."
Whitman admitted that enacting such reforms wouldn't happen overnight but said she was optimistic she could make a quick impact. She said she would consider putting pension reform on the ballot.
"It's going to take some time," Whitman said. "There's no questions about it. But I think we can make a lot of progress in the first 12 months... about attacking, if you will, how to run the government more efficiently, how to take on the pensions, how to reform welfare."
When asked about Proposition 23, which would suspend the state's global warming law AB 32, Whitman said she would release a list of her proposition positions at the end of this week or at the start of next week.
Whitman also said she wanted to change the initiative process.
"I do think it needs to be harder to get initiatives on the ballot," Whitman said. "I think we got to make it very clear to people what the trade-offs are" if voters decide to spend money on a program. She didn't specify how she would make such trade-offs clear to voters.
When asked about campaign finance reform, Whitman said she didn't have any specific changes to suggest. Whitman last week became the biggest self-funding candidate in U.S. history, giving her campaign more than $119 million.
"So campaign finance law is pretty complicated," Whitman said. "I haven't spent a lot of time on what I would recommend about campaign finance law in California."
She did criticize campaign spending by public employee unions and called Democratic rival Jerry Brown a union shill.
"I wanted to invest to make sure that people understood what my plan for California is," Whitman said. "People are very smart. You can't buy elections, but you can, I think, let people know where you stand. You can't buy elections, as I said, but candidates can be bought and sold. And Jerry Brown has bought and sold by the public employee unions."
Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford replied that her charge was "ridiculous and untrue."
"Bought or not, Meg Whitman has admitted she is in the pockets of the big banks on Wall Street and will be looking out for their interests." he said.
Finally, when asked what she would do her first day in office, Whitman responded: "On my first day in office, I want to put a moratorium on all new regulations ... I want to take on the regulatory climate in California."
Photo: Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman meets The Sacramento Bee editorial board Sept. 20, 2010. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee)