Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a measure today that would have increased the survivor payouts for about 13,000 CalPERS members who receive the least money from the benefit, saying that even though the fund could afford it, such a change needs to be part of pension reform.
Senate Bill 350 by Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, would have merged the first, second and third levels of a program that pays the surviving spouses and dependents of a deceased local government employee much like Social Security's survivor benefits.
Negrete McLeod's bill would have increased the payments to members in the oldest, least-generous levels. For example, a surviving spouse in the oldest plan, Level I, receives a $180 per month benefit, compared with a $350 benefit paid to a survivor who began drawing under a later Level III formula. (The Senate bill analysis includes a chart that lays out the details.)
The payments are set in statute, so CalPERS, which sponsored the legislation, needs the OK to move members into better-paying benefit levels since it can't authorize a cost-of-living increase.
"Administrative costs to CalPERS to merge the survivor benefit pools are minor and absorbable," the Senate analysis concluded.
But Brown's veto message focused on larger pension politics, not the cost of SB 350: "Although the benefits increased by this bill are funded by substantial excess reserves, the changes this bill makes should be part of a more comprehensive pension reform."
Jerry Brown's SB 350 Veto Message