In an unusual move, virtually all Republican state lawmakers endorsed Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's 12-point pension plan that includes putting new hires into some sort of hybrid plan, partly counting the stock market through 401ks and raising the retirement age. At least 36 GOP votes are guaranteed, curbing what they call overly-generous and unaffordable benefits.
"Today, we are stepping up to the plate, showing Republicans are united behind the governor's plan. Now, it's up to the governor to get the Democrats on board," said Republican Assm. Connie Conway of Tulare.
Of course, things cannot be that easy at the capitol. When one party says they like something, the other typically does not, especially on a touchy subject like pensions. Gov. Brown is traveling to Washington D.C. All his office would say is that the need for pension reform is urgent and will continue to work with the legislature. Lawmakers have been holding hearings on his plan, but Democrats say they cannot accept it as-is without some vetting.
"We're the legislature. Our job is to look at the bills and look at legislation and develop it, not to just accept whole-hog anything anybody gives us," said Democratic Assm. Warren Furutani of South Los Angeles County.
Public employee unions, which have given some $600 million in concessions under former Gov. Schwarzenegger, say changes are fine only if they ensure retirement security. Pensions provide that. "Republicans have no right to now take advantage of a situation to try to undermine people's security in this state," said AFSCME's Wille Pelote. "A 401k plan gambles on Wall Street. Good luck to you."
While three percent of the state budget goes to pensions, that's about $3 billion this year and the figure skyrockets in future years. Republicans say that is money that cannot be used for schools, roads, and law enforcement.