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It took less than 10 minutes of Wednesday's legislative hearing on public pensions to understand the differences between Democrats and Republicans on the issue.

GOP Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, said she hoped the panel and Gov. Jerry Brown would focus on "California's massive unfunded pension liabilities and high year-to-year costs." She lamented that representatives from the Little Hoover Commission and Legislative Analyst's Office, two nonpartisan entities that have drawn labor scorn by calling for pension cutbacks, were not at Tuesday's first hearing in Carson.

Assemblyman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, co-chairman of the legislative committee, said it was important to hear first from public employee unions because he believes they have the most at stake from pension changes. Half of those testifying Wednesday were representatives from the state's largest public employee organizations.

"The people most directly impacted aren't the ones who are the pundits or those talking about what we should do or those running around with their heads cut off like the sky is falling," Furutani said.

"We're talking about the people that are most directly affected, and that's why we decided we needed to hear from our employee unions to get their point of view," he added. "They're the ones that have been working for the pensions, paying into the pension funds. They're the ones that I think have been the folks we need be very concerned about in terms of making sure these pensions are viable, and move forward for generations to come."

The hearing came a day before Brown is expected to release his latest pension reform plan. When talks between the Democratic governor and Senate Republicans broke down in March, Brown was willing to address pension spiking, impose an annual cap on pension income and offer a 401(k)-style hybrid plan, according to a GOP memo.

Labor leaders testified they were willing to work collaboratively on some changes, but they also emphasized that they recently struck labor deals that require higher employee contributions to pension funds and reduced formulas for new workers.

"There has to be some reform, but it also has to take into account and respect for some of the reforms that have already started happening where savings are being created," said Margarita Maldonado, vice president for bargaining for Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents 95,000 state workers.

Furutani said lawmakers would hold two more hearings on the subject, with testimony from Little Hoover and the Analyst's Office, among others.


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