The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

April 26, 2012
Update: Pension issue alive despite bill derailment, Smyth says

Editor's note, 4:50 p.m.: This post has been updated with news about Senate pension legislation.

Despite a procedural move this morning to push aside two GOP pension reform bills, one of the suspended measures' co-authors says the issue is far from dead.

In a telephone interview after the Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security Committee hearing, Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, said that informal conversations with lawmakers lead him to believe that there's general agreement about many points of the plan that he and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway introduced in February.

"It seems like there are two sticking points: the hybrid plan and changing the retirement age," Smyth said.

As expected, the committee put a hold on several public pension bills this morning, including the two measures by Conway and Smyth that co-opted Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's 12-point plan that would, among other things, fundamentally change benefits for future workers.

Public Employees Committee chairman Warren Furutani, D-Gardena, several days ago told lawmakers that pension reform bills would be put on hold, in deference to a special committee formed to consider the issue. Furutani co-chairs the Joint Legislative Conference Committee On Pension Reform, which started hearings last fall and is expected to propose legislation during this session.

Two mirroring measures in the Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee, Senate Bill 1176 and Senate Constitutional Amendment 18, both authored by Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, have not been voted on. The deadline for moving fiscal bills out of policy committees is Friday.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in February that the Republicans were "clever" to claim Brown's plan as their own, but the GOP measures were "cut-and-paste" bills without analyses. The Senate's ranking Democrat has said several times that he expects a pension reform package to pass this year.

When asked it he thought that would happen, Smyth said, "From the conversations I've had, everyone seems serious," but that Republicans would "remain engaged" and keep Democrats accountable.

Conway blasted Democrats on the Public Employees committee for sending Assembly Bill 2224 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 22 (both by Conway and Smyth) to interim study, effectively killing them.

"It is appalling that Democrats would prefer to stick their heads in the sand rather than enact bipartisan reforms," Conway said in a press release.


Brown's plan, which Republicans put word-for-word into legislation, would put new state and local government workers into so-called "hybrid" retirement plans that blend a smaller guaranteed pension with a riskier 401(k)-type savings component.

The proposal also sets 5 years and 52 years old as the minimum length of service and age that new hires in safety classes could qualify for retirement, 57 years old for all other groups.

Brown has kept quiet about pension reform since rolling out the specifics of his proposal in February. At the time he sold it as a companion ballot proposal to the tax hike he wants to put before voters in November. Without pension reform, Brown argued, voters won't believe lawmakers can be trusted with more money.

Steinberg has said he expects the Legislature to send a package of public pension reforms to Brown by the end of this session.

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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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