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Spinning the public pension reform initiative

California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office this week released its review of the public pension reform initiative proposed by former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego Councilman Carl DeMaio – and what that review says seems to depend on your point of view.

The 11-page document ends with a summary of fiscal effects predicting “significant effects—savings and costs—on state and local governments relating to compensation for governmental employees. The magnitude and timing of these effects would depend heavily on future decisions made by voters, governmental employers, and the courts.”

Opponents were hot out of the gate Tuesday morning with a statement noting the LAO found there’s “significant uncertainty as to the magnitude, timing, and direction of the fiscal effects of this measure and its effects on current and future governmental employees’ compensation.”

“This measure is a Trojan horse that will undermine the retirement security of millions of California families with unknown costs to taxpayers under the guise of giving them more power,” Dave Low, Chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, said in Tuesday’s statement. “Voters have consistently said they will reject proposals that threaten the death and disability benefits of public safety workers, undermine collective bargaining, and eliminate retirement security for teachers, bus drivers, and other public servants. This measure would be dead on arrival to voters, just like previously over-reaching measures.”

But DeMaio and Reed issued a statement Wednesday morning saying the LAO had confirmed “that the mandatory requirements of the measure would produce ‘significant savings.’ Even better, in addition to what is specifically mandated by the measure, the LAO confirmed that voters would have new powers to add to the savings.”

“Government union bosses are desperate to protect their gravy train at taxpayers’ expense. That’s why they are spinning a web of lies about the measure,” they said. “Astonishingly, the government union bosses even going so far as to claim voters will opt to spend MORE money than the politicians if given the new powers our initiative grants the people. At the core of their argument, the unions, along with the politicians, are arguing that voters might make bad decisions with the new powers our initiative grants them. Telling voters they cannot be trusted to make good decisions is not exactly a winning message.”

Posted on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, pension reform | 6 Comments »

Lockyer quits pension study panel, blasts report

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer today resigned from a pension advisory panel of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, questioning the methodology and conclusions in the think-tank’s new public pension study.

The SIEPR study, released today and authored by former Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, estimates the state’s unfunded public worker pension liability at almost $500 billion and calls for pension reforms including benefit reductions for current employees.

“When it comes to public pensions, maybe SIEPR should stand for ‘Stanford Institute to Eviscerate People’s Retirement,.’” Lockyer spokesman Joe DeAnda said today. “Nation approached Lockyer to join the advisory panel after Lockyer strongly criticized SIEPR’s April 2010 report on public pensions. Lockyer agreed to join the advisory panel because he believed SIEPR was interested in producing more thoughtful, evidence-based reports. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case.

“While Nation may have listened selectively to certain advisors, Lockyer certainly wasn’t one of them, and his concerns about methodology and other issues were ignored. SIEPR clearly has a public pension agenda, and it doesn’t include legitimate research.”

UPDATE @ 4:40 P.M.: This just in from Joe Nation (you’ll need to read Lockyer’s criticisms of the report after the jump in order for this to make sense, but I didn’t want to bury Nation’s reply) —

I am disappointed that Treasurer Lockyer has decided to withdraw from our effort to reform California’s public employee pension systems. I do not recall any specific suggestions from him (since he was unable to attend any meetings) or from his staff on methodology, but his statement suggests that he believes that we should have considered only one discount and investment rate, 7.75 percent. In direct response to his statement:

Table 8 of the report is correct. The “roughly 6 percent” rate noted is indeed the discount rate used by most corporations for reporting the present value of pension fund liabilities. As the Treasurer no doubt knows, corporations are required to use a different discount rate for reporting liabilities than the rate they use as an assumption for returns on assets set aside to meet those liabilities.
Regarding investment return assumptions, I share the Treasurer’s concern about corporations that — like California’s pension funds — are employing unrealistic assumptions such as the 7.8 percent figure he refers to in his statement. I reference Warren Buffett’s letter on this very point. As he points out, when it comes to dangerously inflated assumptions of returns on pension fund assets, both corporations and governments are guilty.

Our report assesses pension financial health using discount rates from 4.5 percent to 9.5 percent. Even in the 9.5 percent scenario, which is very unlikely based on either historical performance or current projections, CalPERS and CalSTRS are unable to meet their obligations. Lockyer’s fixation on a 7.75 percent rate is precisely the reason that pension systems find themselves in poor conditions. And repeating private sector mistakes doesn’t help us. Just as we saw with Lehman, AGI, Bear Sterns, and others, understating debt and betting our financial future on unrealistic assumptions will only make the problem worse. In fact, each day that we ignore the public pension crisis costs California $3.4 million that could be better spent on education, social services, and protecting our environment.

Finally, other researchers have concluded that CalPERS and CalSTRS are in worse shape than we describe. Alicia, Munnell, a Democrat member of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, uses methodology that put CalPERS at 56 percent funded and CalSTRS at 39 percent (far lower than our assessments). A consensus is growing that aggressive action is needed to reform our broken pension system. I hope Mr. Lockyer will consider re-joining that effort.

Grant Boyken, Lockyer’s top pension aide, e-mailed Nation today with Lockyer’s resignation. Read the full text of that e-mail, after the jump….
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011
Under: Bill Lockyer, pension reform | 3 Comments »

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.

Posted on Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
Under: pension reform, polls | 6 Comments »

Pensions, OccupyOakland & SF mayor on ‘TWINC’

Last night on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California,” we talked about Gov. Jerry Brown’s public pension reform plan; the Occupy Oakland situation; and San Francisco’s mayoral race.

Posted on Saturday, October 29th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, Oakland, pension reform, San Francisco politics, TWINC | 5 Comments »

Gov. Brown signs CC pension bill

A cheaper, third pension tier for Contra Costa sheriffs deputies is now permanent under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown today.

Authored by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, SB373 eliminates the Jan. 1, 2012, sunset clause for the less expensive Tier C, which sets the pension formula of employees hired Jan. 1, 2007, or after, at the average salary of the highest three years of wages and establishes a 2 percent annual cost of living increase. The more generous benefit pays based on an employee’s highest single year of salary and a 3 percent annual cost of living adjustment.

The county and Deputy Sheriffs Association negotiated the deal in 2006 but the legislation contained an expiration date.

Both sides wanted time to evaluate the financial impacts. The county wants to lower its pension costs, while deputies have struggled to pay their share of contribution rates.

The Senate and the Assembly voted unanimously in favor the bill.

Read the full bill as signed here.

Posted on Monday, July 11th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa Board of Supervisors, Contra Costa County, Mark DeSaulnier, pension reform | No Comments »

CoCo grand jury speaks on pension reform

A month before labor contracts with the vast majority of Contra Costa County government employees expire, the civil grand jury issued its pension reform package.

The report came out today. The grand jury recommends the county:

  • Seek concessions in upcoming union talks that will offset rising pension costs.
  • Prioritize employee benefit changes that produce immediate cost savings, while pursing legislative relief in other areas.
  • Move immediately in areas where the board of supervisors has legal authority to act without union authority or legislative change, although there aren’t many and they are disputed.
  • Require employees to pay more toward their pension costs.
  • Seek legislation that would permit the placement of pension cap so that no employee receives a pension payment higher than what he or she earned while on the job.

Read the full report below.


Posted on Friday, May 27th, 2011
Under: pension reform | 7 Comments »

Pension initiative enters circulation

UPDATE ON WEDNESDAY MORNING: Former Assemblyman Roger Niello now says he won’t pursue the signatures for his public employee pension rollback initiative, which prompted this response from a state union coalition:

“It is appropriate that the flawed Niello initiative to gut retirement security for millions of Californians will end up in the scrapheap of politically-motivated failures instead of on the ballot. It was a poorly drafted attempt to punish middle-class workers and it ignored the fact that workers have agreed to substantial reductions in retirement benefits and have increased their contributions towards pensions from 5 to 10 percent. We continue to believe the way to improve the state’s pension system is at the bargaining table, not the ballot box.”

Former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello of Sacramento is clear for signature take-off on his controversial public employee pension reform initiative.

The Secretary of State officially announced today that he may begin collecting the required 807,615 signatures of California voters in order to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot.

The constitutional amendment strips public employee unions of their right to negotiate their pensions in collective bargaining, sets the retirement age at 62 and caps benefits at 60 percent of an employee’s highest average base wage over three years. It also requires that workers match the public contribution to their premiums.

Polls indicate that public sentiment is with Niello but can he raise the tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to obtain the signatures? And more important, can he financially withstand the labor barrage that will come his way if he does it?

Read on for the news release from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Under: ballot measures, pension reform | 11 Comments »

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.”

Posted on Monday, April 25th, 2011
Under: pension reform, state budget, taxes | 9 Comments »

Will Oakland Chamber support Brown’s budget?

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce endorsed Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan today. The Bay Area Council endorsed it Friday. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed it last month. And even the California Chamber of Commerce’s president has voiced some cautious support for the framework.

Yet there’s been only silence so far from the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, representing the city where the governor used to be mayor.

Joe HaraburdaOakland Chamber President and CEO Joseph Haraburda said the silence won’t last much longer.

“We expect to (announce a position) in the next 48 hours, I would expect,” Haraburda said when reached at home this evening. “Check back with us late tomorrow or early the following day, and we’ll probably have something for you.”

The San Francisco Chamber issued a news release issued this afternoon announcing its support of Brown’s proposed special election and budget package “contingent upon pension, regulatory and other reforms that will bring long-term fiscal stability and economic growth to California,” much the same as the Bay Area council had on Friday.

“Governor Brown’s proposed budget cuts and tax extensions will be painful for the businesses and people of California,” San Francisco Chamber President & CEO Steve Falk said in the release. “However, we must address the budget crisis now to restore our state’s fiscal health in the future. It’s time to put the Governor’s proposal to a vote and move towards a bipartisan solution that is good for California.”

But while the Bay Area Council had seemed to reluctantly accept Brown’s plan to eliminate local redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones to redirect their money toward the $26.6 billion state budget deficit, the San Francisco Chamber is still pushing for some other solution.

“Redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones are critical tools to transform neighborhoods, create jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Falk said. “San Francisco has been successful in leveraging these tools for some of our city’s most significant projects including Mission Bay, the Bayview Hunters Point Shipyard, the Transbay Transit Center and many others. We encourage the Governor, the Legislature and the voters to preserve these important resources.”

I’m sure this, and pension reform, will figure heavily in the Oakland Chamber’s position as well.

Posted on Monday, March 7th, 2011
Under: Jerry Brown, Oakland, pension reform, state budget, taxes | 2 Comments »

Pension reform group files initiatives

The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility filed language for two ballot initiatives with the Attorney General’s Office this week that would cap new public employees’ retirement benefits, raise the eligible retirement age and eliminate the use of vacation pay and other perks to spike retirement pay.

The initiatives are identical except for a provision that would allow cities and other local agencies to exceed the benefit levels with a vote of the people. The foundation says it will poll voters on the option before it decides which initiative it will pursue.

The local vote option is clearly intended to deflect union criticism of the bill as a loss of local control. California agencies individually negotiate pension benefits as part of contracts with their labor groups.

Former moderate Republican Assemblyman Keith Richman, of Northridge, started the foundation.

After the Attorney General’s Office writes a title and summary, the foundation will need to obtain signatures in order to place it on the November 2010 ballot.

Read on for the full press release.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Friday, November 6th, 2009
Under: pension reform | 10 Comments »