The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

April 22, 2013
California retiree health measure fails in committee

130422-walters-Jeff-Gritchen-AP-2013-file.JPGA measure that would have forced future California state employees pay more for their retiree health insurance and wait longer to qualify for it died in a Senate committee Monday afternoon.

The five-member Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee voted down Senate Bill 774 along party lines, 3-2.

The measure, written by Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine, would have applied only to state workers hired on or after Jan. 1, 2015.

Those future employees would have had to work 15 years to qualify for 50 percent of their retiree health-benefit costs and 25 years for 100 percent coverage. Currently the threshold is 10 years for half coverage and 20 years for full coverage.

Employees hired after the measure would have taken effect also would have had to share equally in prefunding the normal cost of their retiree health benefits. And the states would have been prohibited from providing their retiree health benefits unless they were fully funded.

Unlike its pension obligations, California doesn't save ahead for future retiree health costs. The pay-as-you go method will cost the state an estimated $1.81 billion this year. The state controller figures the debt on future benefits for current employees and retirees stands at $63.9 billion in current dollars.

Unions lined up against Walters' measure at the committee hearing, arguing that retiree health care should be negotiated, not imposed by legislation.

"Our problem isn't with prefunding," said Craig Brown, a lobbyist for the state's correctional officers' union. "but this comes out of the pot of funds available for employee compensation," and should therefore be bargained.

Democrats Jim Beall, Marty Block and Leland Yee voted against the measure. Republican Ted Gaines joined Walters in support.

The vote went the same way for another Walters measure, Senate Bill 775, which would have required the State Controller's Office calculate the cost of buying out state employee's vested retiree health care benefits.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Mimi Walters chats with a student while touring a Long Beach school in this March 2013 photo. Jeff Gritchen / Associated Press

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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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