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GOP blocked from California pension reform vote advanced by Gov. Brown

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POSTED June 22, 2012 9:49 p.m.


SACRAMENTO (AP) — While Democrats announced a budget agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown, Republican lawmakers in Sacramento were blocked this week from bringing public pension reform for a vote.

GOP lawmakers said next week is the last chance the Legislature has to adopt a constitutional amendment in order to place a measure on the November ballot. They pushed a vote Thursday in the Senate on the governor's proposals but were blocked by Democrats.

"The people of California deserve an iron-clad constitutional guarantee that the Legislature won't simply unwind future reforms our state so badly needs," Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, said on the Senate floor.

Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg said Democrats were busy with the state budget. He said the majority party plans to take up and modify Brown's proposals for a hybrid pension system.

"We will meet the governor's 12 principles," Steinberg said in a briefing with reporters.

Brown has proposed an extensive pension-reform plan to raise the retirement. It includes increasing the retirement age to 67 for new, non-public safety employees and having local and state government workers pay more toward their pensions and retiree health care.

Brown's proposal also would put new workers in a hybrid plan that includes 401(k)-style accounts.

"Examine it. Improve it. But please take up the issue and do something real. I am committed to pension reform because I believe there is a real problem," Brown said in his January State of the State Address.

Reform advocates are hoping to build momentum for statewide reform after voters in San Diego and San Jose overwhelmingly approved ballot measures to roll back municipal retirement benefits for current and future employees. But Democrats who control the Legislature have not acted on the governor's proposal since he introduced it eight months ago.

The California Public Employees Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension fund, runs a $228.5 billion pension system for more than 1.6 million state employees, school employees and local government workers. The total is down from $251.4 billion in 2007. The system has an unfunded liability of around $85 billion.

The $146.8 billion California State Teachers' Retirement System manages a fund for more than 600,000 active and retired teachers and has about $64.5 billion in unfunded liabilities.

Lawmakers have been focused on allocating resources and closing a $15.7 billion budget gap, and that should be separated from tough policy discussions on public pension, said Fred Silva, senior fiscal adviser at California Forward, a bipartisan group of business and political leaders that is seeking solutions to the state's fiscal and political problems.

"You've got to get this spending plan through, and in this case the Democrats did it because they have a majority vote," Silva said.

Steinberg said Republicans chose not to trade pension changes in exchange for putting a tax hike measure on a statewide ballot. "Last year they blew a golden opportunity to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the governor because of their anti-tax position," he said.

Republicans said they were ready to make the deal, but the governor backed out because of pressure from union interests.


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