6

Field Poll gauges voters on public pension reform

A plurality, but not a majority, of California voters believe pension benefits for most state and local government workers are too generous, and most believe Gov. Jerry Brown is on the right track to reform, according to Field Poll results released today.

But about two in three California voters believe reforms should be made to the benefits of current employees, not just new ones – something legal experts say could be hard to do, as contracts aren’t easily broken.

Two years ago, the Field Poll found 32 percent of voters believed public pension benefits were too generous while 16 percent believed they weren’t generous enough, 40 percent believed they were about right and 12 percent had no opinion. Now, 41 percent say they’re too generous, 14 percent say they’re not generous enough, 35 percent say they’re about right and 10 percent have no opinion.

Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security – a coalition of unions representing more than 1.5 million public workers and retirees – said in an e-mailed statement that it’s “very revealing that even after an intensive and sustained political campaign attacking public employees, about half of voters believe that public employee pensions are just right or too little while just four in 10 think they are too high.”

Republicans are far more likely to believe public pension benefits are too generous (58 percent), while 41 percent of Democrats say they’re about right. Independent voters are split, with 37 percent believing they’re about right and 34 percent saying they’re too generous.

Naturally, union households show more support for the status quo – 48 percent believe the benefits are about right, 27 percent say they’re too generous and 22 say they’re not generous enough – compared to non-union households (45 percent too generous, 32 percent about right, 13 percent not generous enough).

When read a summary of pension reform proposals Brown rolled out in October, 51 percent say they strike the right balance; 24 percent think they go too far and 14 percent believe they don’t go far enough. Voter reactions were relatively uniform regardless of party or union affiliation.

“We believe voters have yet to hear meaningful details about the governor’s pension proposals to make an informed decision, and our own polling demonstrates that, given specifics, some of his proposals are very unpopular,” Low said. “Although voters might think it sounds unfair to single out new employees, it is illegal and unconstitutional to impair benefits for current employees. Given all the facts, Californians will not stand for our state government breaking the law and breaking promises to those who have dedicated their careers to serving the public.”

Low said his coalition’s goal remains simple. “We will continue our hard work with the Governor and the Legislature on reasonable, common sense measures to sustain California’s retirement system, rebuild our state’s working class, provide adequate retirement benefits, eliminate abuses and confront fiscal realities.”

The Field Poll numbers are based on a survey of 515 registered voters conducted Nov. 15 through 27, with a 4.4-percentage-point margin of error.

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.