Brown's Pension Plan Proves Unpopular With Parties, Unions
Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, said in a statement Brown’s proposals would undermine the power of collective bargaining.
“Unions across California have negotiated major retirement concessions, including increased payments by employees and two-tier benefits,” Low said. “These concessions have already saved the state, cities, counties and other entities hundreds of millions of dollars. We are strongly opposed to imposing additional retirement rollbacks without bargaining."
Some skeptics questioned the sincerity of the governor’s proposal. In an op-ed for The Examiner, Dan Walters posed the question, “Is Brown serious, or is he throwing up something that technically keeps a campaign promise, but that he knows will be trashed by Democratic legislators utterly beholden to the unions?”
Indeed, the governor’s fellow Democrats were taken aback by what appeared to be a blanket targeting of public sector employees, who, as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, pointed out, “are middle class workers… their average pensions are far from exorbitant.”
“Everyone, workers in both the private and the public sector, deserves to be able to retire with dignity,” Steinberg told The Sacramento Bee. “Our goal should be to strengthen the middle class, not reduce it.
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans were tentatively pleased with some of the governor’s riskier points. Reactions from the right leaned toward approval of Brown’s apparent bowing to some Republican objectives.
“It's encouraging to see the Governor embrace ideas that Republicans have pushed for years,” said Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare. “Assembly Republicans hope that he will encourage his fellow Democrats in the Legislature, as well as his union allies, to follow suit.”
But California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said the proposals would stop short of bringing about substantial improvement. “Experts say that California's unfunded pension liability could be $500 billion. Brown's plan, while a small step in the right direction, proposes to save only $1 billion per year,” Del Beccaro said. “California can't wait 500 years for a solution. We need a bold plan today that recognizes that California taxpayers have lost 28 percent of all homeowner equity lost in the country and don't have the money to bail out Sacramento anymore."
With both sides wary, Brown’s pension reform may come down to a last-minute push through the Legislature, on par with the budget debacle earlier this year. In fact, pensions proved particularly problematic during the budget talks. Brown wanted Republicans to extend expiring taxes and fees to help deal with a $26 billion deficit, while Republicans pushed for the hybrid pension system now evident in the governor’s 12-point plan. The final budget passed without mention of pensions.
Characterizing Brown’s record as a failure of bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility, Joe Matthews wrote for The Daily Beast:
Jerry Brown's argument for his return to the California governorship was that as a 73-year-old politician, too old to worry about his political future, he would throw caution to wind, force partisans of left and right to negotiate, and tame this state’s famously out-of-control budget.
But his first six months in office have looked nothing like this. Brown’s experience has been no match for the difficult task that confronts Democrats in Washington and around the country: how to, at a time of austerity, protect programs and secure more taxes in the face of opposition from anti-tax Republicans. Brown has made concession after concession—cutting billions, agreeing to negotiate new legal limits on spending and pensions—without securing any agreement for additional revenues, even temporary taxes that would be subject to a vote of the people. In the process, he has alienated his own party.
For the most part backed by said alienated Democrats, unions are holding out for significant changes to be made in the plan. Chairman Low said labor groups will continue to work with the governor and other lawmakers to refine the state’s pension system, but “we simply cannot stand for imposing additional retirement rollbacks on millions of workers without bargaining.”
If his pension system overhaul is indeed a sincere attempt at reform, Brown faces a significant challenge in gaining support as the proposal moves forward.
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