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Gov. Brown proposes pension benefit overhaul

October 27, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If Gov. Jerry Brown can get his pension plan to the ballot, California voters will have a say in the retirement benefits of future state and local government workers.

Among the proposed changes:

  • Move new employees to a hybrid system that combines pensions with 401(k) style plans.
  • Raise the retirement age for non-public safety new hires from 55 to 67.
  • Require at least 25 years of service before getting healthcare benefits for life.
  • End the practice of pension spiking, which pads workers paychecks with overtime, sick leave and vacation time so that pension calculations are bigger.

The governor says he's trying to be fair.

"The taxpayers of the state have to ultimately bear the burden, and this is a program to protect the taxpayers as well as those who work and serve the taxpayers in public employment," Brown said.

Gov. Brown's plan also touches current government workers, who won't be able take advantage of "airtime," which allows them to buy five additional years of service so they can retire earlier. Many will also have to contribute more to their retirement.

Union leaders are furious and will try to sway democratic allies to reject many of the changes.

They think the 401(k) plan is a big money grab for Wall Street and is too risky to ensure a comfortable retirement.

"Leave pensions alone. Stop letting others define pensions as a problem, because pensions are not the problem," said Willie Pelote of the labor union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "When the economy recovers, pensions will recover."

Republican State senators Bill Emerson and Tom Harman will support putting Gov. Brown's plan before voters, since some of the ideas came from them.

But it's only a start.

"His plan is saying we can save $900 million a year. There are experts out there that claim we could have as many as $500 billion in unfunded pension liability, so it certainly doesn't come anywhere to close to solving that issue," said Mark Standriff of the California Republican Party.


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