The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

January 10, 2012
Pension measure backers say Kamala Harris wrote false statements

The group behind two ballot proposals that would significantly alter public employee pensions has blasted the summaries assigned to them on Monday by Attorney General Kamala Harris.

California Pension Reform said in a press release this morning that parts of the descriptions are accurate but that the first-term Democrat makes "other statements that are either provably false or grossly misleading."

Spokesman Aaron McLear said this morning that CPR will still press ahead with raising money and collecting signatures after it conducts some polling and decides which proposal has the best chance of success "within the next week or so."

Harris' spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill said this morning that "we believe the title and summary is accurate."

CPR filed the two pension measures in November. One would put state and local government employees hired in the future into defined contribution retirement plans similar to 401(k) plans common in the private sector. The other, which mirrors a plan proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would place new hires into retirement plans that blend a smaller traditional pension with a defined contribution component.

Click here for the title and summary of the defined contribution proposal. This link opens the title and description for the hybrid proposal.

Both of CPR's measures and Brown's plan address pension spiking and other abuses. Before a ballot proposal's backers can circulate petitions to qualify it for the ballot, the attorney general must assign it a title and description for official publication.

Here are the specific criticisms that CPR leveled at the descriptions of the measures:

1. "Reduces pension benefits for current and future public employees..."

This is an absolutely false statement. The proposals do not change pension benefits for current employees. The proposals simply require current employees to pay more for future benefits and then only if the fund is at risk of not being able to pay the employees the benefits they are due.

2. "... including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, but excluding judges."

The AG selectively lists three positive poll-tested jobs out of thousands of government employee job classifications when both measures apply to all public employees, except constitutionally-protected judges.

3. "Prohibits public retirement systems from providing death or disability benefits to future employees."

The AG includes the words "prohibits" and "death or disability benefits" in the same sentence when our measures actually specifically provide for those benefits. To avoid any confusion about death and disability benefits, both initiatives say:

"Sec 12 (d) All government agencies that provide pension or other retirement benefits for their government employees may also separately provide death and disability benefits for the benefit of their government employees, regardless of the date of hire. The cost of such death and disability benefits is not subject to the cost limitations established in this section."

4. "Over the next two or three decades, either increased annual costs or annual savings in state and local government personnel costs, depending on how this measure is interpreted and administered."

The AG repeats the LAO's misleading analysis that would require the state to maintain a system that Governor Brown rightly calls a "Ponzi scheme." The LAO acknowledges that the proposals do not necessarily increase costs and fails to recognize that these proposals would immediately begin to pay down the state's hundreds of billions of dollars in pension debt. The mounting debt would be paid off by shifting more of the costs to the employees, not the state.

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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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