California public pension reform deadline approaches

August 27, 2012 10:53:37 PM PDT
It's a hectic time right now at the State Capitol. The session ends in just four days and there are hundreds of bills still waiting for action. One critical issue, pension reform, is among them.

While lawmakers vote on a flurry of bills to beat the Friday deadline, one proposal still remains unwritten -- the long-promised overhaul of public pensions. However, key points of a final package have been leaked. Instead of a hybrid plan that includes a 401k-type option, there'll be a yet-to-be-determined benefit cap. It will be something like a $100,000 a year limit, even for public safety employees. Current employees will have to contribute more and the retirement age will be raised for new hires.

"I think they are going to be some people in organized labor, frankly, that are not going to be thrilled with it," said St. Sen. President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Already, public employee labor unions are not liking what they're hearing, having been shut out of negotiations in recent days.

"We're upset that a Democratic legislature and Democratic governor feel obligated to take this out on working men and women in California," said SEIU spokesperson Terry Brennand. "That's going to damage the ability of working men and women to retire in dignity."

Another thing adding pressure is the November election. The feeling among Democrats is they must show they are reigning in pension costs so that voters will say yes to tax hikes.

The general public feels government employee retirement benefits are too generous, even though the average state worker pension is roughly $3,000 a month.

Critics, though, aren't holding their breath. Without anything written yet, they question whether a comprehensive fix can be done in the eleventh hour.

"Absolutely not. When you're doing something major this late, it's designed to get away from scrutiny and we can't afford to mess up something as important as public pension reform," said Sen. Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Pension critics point out without changes, retirement costs will continue to eat away other parts of the budget.


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