Budget/pension poll draws fire from both sides

Today’s new LA Times/USC poll – showing that California voters both want government workers to give up some retirement benefits to help ease the state’s financial problems, and also agree with and want to vote upon Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to continue current tax rates to help close the state budget deficit – is taking fire from both sides.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Health Care and Retirement Security – a coalition representing 1.5 million public employees and retirees – said:

“Sadly, this survey demonstrates that Californians are being misled about public employee pensions by special interests seeking to undermine the middle class. California public employees’ contributions to their pensions have climbed from 5 percent to 7 to 10 percent. They are increasing their share of their pension contribution, saving $400 million last year alone in the state budget, and negotiating at the bargaining table in hundreds of jurisdictions around the state right now. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton even declares: ‘State employee pensions are not to blame for Sacramento’s budget deficit. Not by any math.’

“Meanwhile, despite headlines about the tiny fraction of abuses of the system, the reality is that the average public pension in California is about $26,000 and many retirees are receiving less than $1,000 a month to pay their bills after decades of service teaching our children, protecting our families and keeping our homes safe. Many do not receive social security. Given facts unclouded by politically motivated deception, Californians will reject attempts to weaken the middle class and target retirement security for public workers living on modest incomes.”

Meanwhile, California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said:

“This poll is a trial lawyer’s dream, judging by the way the respondents were systematically led to the conclusion that higher taxes are the only ‘reasonable’ solution to California’s budget crisis. Jerry Brown’s claim that his budget plan produces $14 billion in cuts is pure fiction and any attempt to use that figure as the major focus for polling is completely disingenuous.”

“The analysis makes it clear: the bills Governor Brown signed total only $7 billion in cuts, and $7.5 billion in funding shifts, cutbacks to planned spending, and other budget gimmicks. On the other hand, there’s no disputing that Jerry’s tax plan calls for $60 billion in new taxes over the next five years while his spending plan will increase the state budget by 30% over the next three years. If the participants had been given all the facts, instead of a few leading questions, this poll would’ve turned out quite differently.

“Even with misleading data and skewed sampling, this poll still could only produce the barest of majorities to agree with its flawed premise, a figure that will not hold up in any true election.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    It amazes me that people generally don’t seem to be as angry about pensions as you would expect, considering that few of them will ever see anything remotely like the retirement benefits available to public employees. If these platinum pension/health care deals didn’t already exist, and somebody proposed a ballot initiative to cut services so that tax dollars could be used instead to create those benefits, they wouldn’t even be able to get the signatures. Yet, that’s basically what is happening today by not addressing the retiree pension and health care issue in a serious way.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Raise taxes more and the only new business you will see around here is Your New Oakland Bakery and Bankruptcy Center.

  • Darrell

    The private sector jobs out there must really
    suck not to have any kind of benefits. I guess they
    think you knuckle dragging employees are paid enough and do not need any kind of retirement. Any honest company would take care of their employees like they should. That is why I work for the state. Like any good company,they take care of their workers after they retire. It just goes to show that most companies
    out there only care about the other mansion that they
    need to buy instead of take care of their employees.
    If you do not work for that kind of company why not?
    You can apply anywhere you want. Don’t complain about
    state workers and their benefits.

  • When both sides of a polarized debate complain, you are probably on to something. Why should/could these alternatives be seen as mutually exclusive in the first place is beyond me. Thanks Josh.

  • Common Tater

    Tom nailed this one.

  • Lupe

    We don’t have a budget crisis. We have a crisis of mismanaging our US tax dollars. The governement and banking frauds should be taking pay cuts, not the people who had nothing to do with this mess. And here’s a secret you probably don’t know: we have PLENTY of money. It’s just not being delegated properly to where it NEEDS to go, hence the con job of “oh my oh my we have a budget crisis.” OHHHHH reeeeallllllyyyyy. Is that why we can still send BILLIONS to Mexico? And other countries that steal our foreign aid and rip us off and do NOTHING with the money we send them? Yea, sure, we have NO money and we all need to scale down? Oh blow me you friggin liars, what con artists. Our gov. spends MILLIONS every year on printing bilingual flyers for schools and libraries and providing FREE lunches for ILLEGAL aliens and FREE medical care for ILLGEAL aliens and representing illegal aliens who LIE LIE LIE LIE LIE about being abused in their homeland, only to then, when granted asylum, bring their allegedly “abusing” spouse or family members over the border with them……WOw. betcha didn’t know that scam

  • John W

    Re: #3 Darrell

    Nobody ever said public employees shouldn’t have decent retirement benefits. However, pensions that replace 90/75% or even 60% of a former employee’s career highest pay (sometimes even spiked with a promotion or other methods) and then starts collecting full pension long before normal retirement age with automatic cost of living increases, is way beyond what once was considered a gold standard defined benefit pension in the private sector. Before these plans started fading away, a secure retirement from a blue-chip company was considered to be one that replaced 80/90% of pre-retirement pay, based on the “three-legged stool” of a pension (for those lucky enough to have them), Social Security and personal savings. A non-safety public employee with enough years to retire with a 75% pension at 55 who lives to 80 will receive a pension payout with a present value 3-4 times as great as a really good 1970’s style pension in the private sector that pays less than 50% (based on average of 3 or 5 highest years), starts at 65 and has no cost-of-living increase. For example, a $60k pension for an $80k employee would pay out $1.5 million by age 80. The private plan would pay out less than $600k reduced to a present value of about $450k. I’ve run the numbers doing the comparison using pension plan details from a major company that is known for its generous benefits (not for a “race to the bottom”) and whose pension plan is the same as it was more than 30 years ago. Then there’s retiree health care benefits — a whole ‘nother discussion. What is going to happen because of budget pressures is that the salaries of working public employees will stagnate and be further reduced by what they will have to pay into the plans, while the pensions of their retired predecessors will continue to grow due to guaranteed COLA’s — so that the retiree pensions will eventually be higher than the working incomes of their successors.

  • Common Tater

    I just read a great line in today’s Wall Street Journal. Paraphrasing: “The system won’t change until we starve it to death.” That is what’s needed in California. The same old tax-and-spend liberals will never change. Jerry and the boys want to raise taxes to keep the status quo for themselves and their public employee union buddies. Does anyone really believe that there will ever be any pension reform with their plan?

    It’s time to starve them to death. The alternative is that we will all starve.

  • Dave

    In the black and white world of “platinum” pensions, there is no recognition that most public employees pay 8% or more of their salary toward pension, 6.2% toward Social Security as well as Medicare taxes and, of course, income taxes…in my case completely unsheltered. I’m really paying my share. I don’t like the income spiking or the 1% of cases that become the “typical” examples of rampant abuse. I’m a taxpayer too. There is a sense of balance that public employees share.