Kamala Harris’ Misuse of Power

Steven Greenhut: I know it’s naive, but state attorney generals are supposed to provide fair ballot summaries for proposed initiatives, but in recent years AGs use their power to destroy initiatives they don’t like by describing them improperly and even employing utter falsehoods. Former AG Bill Lockyer was notoriously bad in this manner, which not only spoke volumes about his character, but undermined the electoral process. Now Kamala Harris is showing herself to be even worse than Lockyer. If she can’t even try to be fair in providing a ballot title, what’s the chance she is fair in promoting justice as the state’s top law-enforcement official?

Here is a statement from California Pension Reform regarding Harris’ despicable misuse of power regarding a pension reform initiative:

Dan Pellissier, President of California Pension Reform (CPR), today responded to the Attorney General’s title and summary of CPR’s initiative proposals.

“Californians know our public pension system is broken and voters overwhelmingly support pension reform.   Our measures are a responsible way to rein in out-of-control government pensions that are robbing services like public safety and higher education. We are confident that voters will see through the Attorney General’s biased and misleading ballot statement. A vast majority of Californians, including union members and the Governor, support pension reform and we look forward to providing voters an opportunity to fix our broken pension system.”

While the Attorney General accurately describes parts of the initiatives, she provides other statements that are either provably false or grossly misleading:

1. “Reduces pension benefits for current and future public employees…”

This is an absolutely false statement. The proposals do not change pension benefits for current employees. The proposals simply require current employees to pay more for future benefits and then only if the fund is at risk of not being able to pay the employees the benefits they are due.

2. “… including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, but excluding judges.”

The AG selectively lists three positive poll-tested jobs out of thousands of government employee job classifications when both measures apply to all public employees, except constitutionally-protected judges.

3. “Prohibits public retirement systems from providing death or disability benefits to future employees.”

The AG includes the words “prohibits” and “death or disability benefits” in the same sentence when our measures actually specifically provide for those benefits. To avoid any confusion about death and disability benefits, both initiatives say:

“Sec 12 (d) All government agencies that provide pension or other retirement benefits for their government employees may also separately provide death and disability benefits for the benefit of their government employees, regardless of the date of hire.  The cost of such death and disability benefits is not subject to the cost limitations established in this section.”

 4. “Over the next two or three decades, either increased annual costs or annual savings in state and local government personnel costs, depending on how this measure is interpreted and administered.”

The AG repeats the LAO’s misleading analysis that would require the state to maintain a system that Governor Brown rightly calls a “Ponzi scheme.” The LAO acknowledges that the proposals do not necessarily increase costs and fails to recognize that these proposals would immediately begin to pay down the state’s hundreds of billions of dollars in pension debt. The mounting debt would be paid off by shifting more of the costs to the employees, not the state.

JAN. 10, 2012

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