Democrats kill pension reform bills

Democrats kill pension reform bills

June 21, 2012

By Katy Grimes

Antics today in the California Senate hit an all time low when Democrats blocked attempts to bring public pension reform bills SB 1176 and Senate Constitutional Amendment 18 to the Senate Floor for a vote in order to make the November ballot deadline.

Senate Republicans had adopted Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12-point pension reform plan, and placed the language in the two bills. Still Senate Democrats killed chances for much needed reform for the state, as well as for public employees.

Is this “goodbye sweet California?”

Several of the Senate Republicans spoke about this serious political constipation, and reminded colleagues that SB 1176 and SCA 18 were bipartisan bills.

“You had an opportunity to bring the governor’s public pension reform plan to the Senate floor, to debate it in the open, and you said no,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. “The proof is this: Where was the vote today? You don’t want to have a debate in public. You want to work on a secret plan behind closed doors, away from public view.”


“That’s the whole point of this effort to bring public pension reform to the Senate Floor,” Huff said in a statement immediately following the floor session. “If we’re all elected to represent Californians equally and honorably, let us all have an equal seat at the table. Don’t just shut Republicans out because you don’t like what we have to say.”

“We need pension reform,” Huff said. “We should have an honest debate. The public should be involved with this effort.”

“There is still time to put this on the ballot,” Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, said. LaMalfa reminded colleagues of the two cities in California which just voted to approve pension reform in the June 5 election: “Voters passed pension reform in San Jose by 70 percent, and 66 percent in San Diego. This is the mood of the state, and across the country.”

“The Senate Conference Committee on Pensions refused to hear the plans,” Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, said. “But June 28 is the last day to put pension reform on the ballot. We need ironclad, guaranteed reforms–don’t be afraid to let the people vote.”

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Jerry Brown said that pension reform was urgent. Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, quoted Brown on his pension reform plan: “Examine it, improve it, but please, do something real.”

“There are three times the number of people retiring as are going into the workforce,”  Harman quoted Brown saying, and said it was unsustainable.

“I am deeply disappointed that the Pension Conference Committee ended public hearings without debate, without discussion, and without a vote on the governor’s pension reform language,” said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Irvine. “Since the Conference Committee began, I have repeatedly, and publicly, raised concerns about a secret backroom pension deal being negotiated.  I am on the Pension Conference committee and I have not been invited to participate in drafting any pension reform language, nor have I even seen a draft of any such language.”

Closed-door talks

“What we’re asking is for the legislative Democrats to give the public a chance to vote on the pension proposal that was written by the governor, a member of their own party,” said Huff.  “But the window of opportunity is closing quickly.”

“The Democrats claim to be serious about solving Californian’s pension crisis, yet they continue to deny the people of California an opportunity to vote on this important issue,” Huff reported.

“We’ve just witnessed my Democrat colleagues pass their half-baked budget based on closed door talks that shut out the public,” adds Huff.  “Now they seem intent on denying the public a vote on pensions. Closed door deals and back room negotiations are hardly the recipe for meaningful reform.”

“Rest assured, this plan is moving forward,” Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Montclair, said. McLeod said she didn’t understand what the fuss by Republicans was about. “You will have a chance to look at it,” McLeod said.

But the icing on the cake in this debate was from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who mocked Republicans for aligning with Brown. “The idea that members of the minority party are in lockstep with Gov. Brown is an audacious statement,” Steinberg said. “The Group of Five, or whatever moniker they are using, offered comprehensive pension reform, but we all know it could not pull the trigger and defy the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and put tax language on the ballot,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg accused Republicans of cherry picking what parts of state policy they would participate in, and said pension reform wasn’t the only pertinent issue on the table.

Huff said that Republicans would like to participate in all parts of government, like the budget talks, but Democratic leadership was holding all negotiations and talks behind closed doors, preventing even Republican leadership from participating. “The public should be involved,” Huff said. But he said, because the special interests at the Capitol didn’t like reforms last year, Democrats were adamantly controlling the process, even by locking out members of the majority party.

Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, reminded colleagues that he hadn’t signed the no-tax pledge, and said he was tired of Democrats using that as a reason not to deal. Cannella said that as a member of the Republican Group of Five, “We still remain ready to work at every level of government.”

“We’re going to get pension reform done,” Steinberg said. “The proof will be in what we produce.”


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