The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

May 24, 2011
Niello's pension reform initiative enters signature-gathering phase

niello.jpgUPDATE: Former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello said he will not pursue a signature-gathering campaign for his pension reform proposal because of the diminishing likelihood of a special election on taxes later this year.

"Our urgency is gone," he said. "The reason for filing this measure was to have something in line for a November election alongside the measure on taxes, but that appears unlikely to happen now."

Gov. Jerry Brown is still calling for a special election as early as September to keep in place the current rates of income, sales and vehicles taxes. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said last week he wants that election to happen next year.

Niello said he's open to introducing a new measure for one of the 2012 ballots. He said he likely would amend his proposal to have a lower retirement age for public safety workers and to tie a benefit cap to a specific dollar figure rather than a percentage of wages.

Original post below:

Former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello may begin collecting signatures to place a pension reform proposal before voters, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday.

Niello faces a deadline of Oct. 20 to gather more than 807,600 signatures to qualify the measure as a ballot proposition. He has called his proposal, the Public Employee Pension Reform Act, more reasonable than some of the other pension reform ideas that have floated around this year.

His proposal would equally split contributions, cap benefits and limit changes to pension plans. The Legislative Analysts Office and the Finance Department said the proposal could save billions of dollars per year over the long run. However, the savings could be offset by other deals made with public employees or changing conditions in the labor market.

Niello's initiative would:

• Set the retirement age for all California public employees, including current workers in every classification, at age 62. All the other elements would only affect future hires.
• 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.
• Provide public agencies complete power to modify pensions
• Ban modifying pensions through contract or collective bargaining.
• Exclude unused leave time from pension calculations.
• End retroactive pension increases. Public employees who retire before voters approve the proposal would not be affected.

Other groups, including the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, are considering ballot measures to amend the state's pension system. Gov. Jerry Brown outlined a pension reform plan earlier this year. Several elements lacked details and require further study.

PHOTO CREDIT:
Former Assemblyman Roger Niello listens to a question at a state budget panel discussion on March 23. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee.

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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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