Will Dems support pension reform?

On Monday, the Senate PERS committee will vote on much-needed pension reform — SB919 by Sen. Dennis Hollingsorth, R-Murrieta. As the state faces a $500 billion pension liability, according to a recent Stanford study, something must be done to fix the pension problem. SB919 doesn’t go as far as I would go in creating a new retirement tier for government employees, but it offers realistic reforms that would rein in the problem for new hires. The bill requires longer working years before retirement, calculates the payout on the final three years of work rather than on the last year, increases employee contributions to the pension plan and reforms health benefits. It also ends state public safety retirements for groups that clearly are not public safety officers — i.e., milk inspectors.

It’s a great start. Does it have a chance?

“It’s up to the Democrats,” Sen. Hollingsworth told me this morning. “Do they want to continue budget cuts on the programs they advocate for or do they want to get ahead of [this problem]? … They must pick between the public and public employees.”

Hollingsworth warns that there isn’t an economic rebound that can bounce high enough to fix the unsustainable pension problem and that if the Legislature doesn’t fix it, this will be taken to the ballot box. My guess is the initiative process will be much tougher on the unions than the Legislature.

But unions control the Democrats and public safety unions have much sway over many Republicans. The letters unions have sent in opposition to SB919 have been absurd.  The Professional Engineers in California Government have argued that the pension system is not broken. It blames — get this! –“Wall Street excesses and corporate abuses.”

Unless the majority Democrats stop listening to these self-interested unions, nothing will be fixed.

–Steven Greenhut

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