The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

November 9, 2011
GOP lawmakers demand special session on public pensions

Four GOP lawmakers this morning praised Gov. Jerry Brown's 12-point plan to change public pensions, then challenged him to go a step further by calling a special session to address the issue.

"The Legislature needs to give our full attention to this, right now," Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton said at a press conference held in his office. "After the first of the year, we're going to be all budget, all the time."

The Rancho Cucamonga Republican said that he sent his request that Brown reconvene lawmakers before the regular session starts in January. Dutton said he hadn't received a response as of this morning.

Dutton and three other GOP senators -- Tom Berryhill of Oakdale, Tom Harman of Huntington Beach and Mimi Walters of Laguna Niguel -- took turns praising Brown for offering a series of public pension changes, which the Legislative Analyst's Office described Tuesday as "a bold, excellent starting point" though it "leaves many questions unanswered."

"I want to commend the governor publicly," Harman said. "I think he is serious."

The GOP caucus has a checkered history when it comes to public pension policy. Dutton was among a small number of Republicans who tried to block legislation last year that lowered benefits for new state hires and hiked what all state workers pay into their pension funds. Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger desperately wanted the measure and had Democrats and labor on board.

Through some technical tweaking, the bill passed. Schwarzenegger said the Republicans were acting on behalf of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

When asked why he opposed that legislation but now supports a special session on pensions, Dutton said, "That was nothing more than punishment," referring to Schwarzenegger's well-known battles with labor, CCPOA in particular. He and the other three Republicans at this morning's news conference all insisted that true reform would have to come via a constitutional amendment to make any changes impossible for a future Legislature to undo on its own.

And last May, Brown offered to trade a public pension rollback initiative for GOP legislators' signoff on a ballot measure that would have extended tax rates. The deal fell through, and the Republicans then took the highly unusual step of publicly releasing notes of the pension negotiations.

Brown's 12-point plan is tougher in some ways than what he had agreed to last May.

For example, the Republicans' notes indicated the administration had agreed to a "optional" hybrid plan for new workers and rejected splitting pension contributions 50-50 between employers and employees. The plan Brown issued last month makes hybrids mandatory for new workers and requires current and future employees to share at least half of normal pension costs.

Unions have objected to many points in Brown's plan and insist that pensions are part of compensation that must be bargained, not mandated legislatively or via the ballot box. Brown wants to put his plan before voters a year from now.

Sen. Bob Dutton's letter to Jerry Brown

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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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