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Republican lawmakers endorse Gov. Brown's pension reform

February 22, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Governor Jerry Brown's pension reforms are getting a big boost from an unlikely source: Republican state lawmakers. They are calling on Brown to shore up support for the reforms in his own party.

In an unusual move, virtually all Republican state lawmakers endorsed Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's 12-point pension plan.

The plan includes putting new-hires into some sort of hybrid plan partly counting on the stock market through 401(k)s, and raising the retirement age.

At least 36 GOP votes are guaranteed, curbing what they call overly generous and unaffordable benefits.

"Today, we are stepping up to the plate, showing Republicans are united behind the governor's plan," said state Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare). "Now it's up to the governor to get the Democrats on board."

Of course, things can't be that easy at the Capitol. When one party likes something, the other typically doesn't, especially on a touchy subject like pensions.

Governor Brown is traveling to Washington, D.C. All his office would say is the need for pension reform is urgent and will continue to work with the Legislature.

Lawmakers have been holding hearings on his plan. But Democrats says they can't accept it as-is without some vetting.

"We're the Legislature. Our job is to look at the bills and look at legislation and develop it. Not to just accept whole-hog anything anybody gives us," said Assm. Warren Furutani (D-Gardena).

Public-employee unions, which have given some $600 million in concessions under former Governor Schwarzenegger, say changes are fine only if they ensure retirement security. Pensions provide that.

"Republicans have no right to now take advantage of a situation to try to undermine people's security in this state," said Willie Pelote, assistant director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). "A 401(k) plan gambles on Wall Street. Good luck to you."

While 3 percent of the state budget goes to pensions, that's about $3 billion this year. And the figure skyrockets in future years.

Republicans say that's money that can't be used for schools, roads and law enforcement.