The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

March 24, 2011
Former lawmaker Niello proposes pension rollback initiative

Former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello has submitted a proposed statewide ballot initiative to the Attorney General's Office, the first step to circulating a petition to put a measure on a November ballot, if an election is called this year.

Niello, who lives in Fair Oaks, has submitted what he's calling the "Public Employee Pension Reform Act," which would:

• Set the retirement age for all California public employees, including current workers in every classification, at age 62.
• Limit retirement benefits for a public agency employee to no more than 60 percent of the highest annual average base wage of the employee over a period of three consecutive years of employment.
• Split the employer/employee contribution to pensions equally.
• Exclude unused leave time from pension calculations.
• Ends retroactive pension increases.

Other than the retirement age change, the other parts of the initiative would apply only to new hires, Niello said in a telephone interview this evening.

The proposal also includes this paragraph:

Public agencies shall retain exclusive authority to modify the terms of pension, retiree health, or other retirement benefits provided to its employees and may not relinquish such authority in any employee contract or collective bargaining agreement.

If voters approved the measure, it would take effect immediately.

Niello said that the pension changes he is proposing are "reasonable," particularly compared with some ideas that have entered the public debate. For example, his plan doesn't switch guaranteed pension payouts for 401(k)-style defined contribution plans or a hybrid system like that outlined in last month's Little Hoover Commission pension report.

Asked whether he was prepared for a fight with public employee unions, Niello said, "This is an approach I'd think that they would find more acceptable, given what some of the alternatives are that are out there."

Niello said that he hopes that Gov. Jerry Brown and GOP lawmakers can forge a pension deal as part of a June special election on whether to extend taxes. If they can't and Brown decides to put a tax measure on a November ballot, Niello wants his initiative to be ready to go.

"It's my preference that they work out a compromise for a June ballot measure," Niello said. "But if they can't, we're planning for every contingency."

Read the proposal here.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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