Pension reform doesn’t go far enough

By ASSEMBLYWOMAN SHANNON GROVE

Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 340, the so-called “comprehensive” pension reform measure, earlier this month. I was one of only a handful of legislators to vote against it.

Over the past two decades, the state legislature’s irresponsible behavior has resulted in unsustainable pension promises to millions of public employees. A study released last year by Stanford University puts California’s outstanding liability at nearly $500 billion. The bankruptcy of several California cities shows that local governments in particular are affected by these liabilities.

Last fall the governor introduced a modest proposal to address this pension mess. He called for a new pension design similar to private sector retirement plans. Brown also suggested raising the retirement age, removing pensions for convicted felons and eliminating various gimmicks that increase payouts. While his proposal addressed only future hires, I along with most Republicans viewed the plan as a “good start” and supported it.

Fast-forward to last month, almost a year after Brown proposed his original plan. With polls showing lukewarm support for his upcoming tax initiative, the governor pushed legislative leaders to pass some kind of pension reform. What resulted was a watered-down version of the initial proposal hastily drafted by the Democrats during the last week of the legislative session. AB 340, while including some of the original minor reform proposals, did not address the need for a defined benefit pension plan, which was the meat of Governor Brown’s already modest proposal.

To add insult, the revised plan only partially addresses the issue of providing pensions to convicted felons. The new bill states that only felonies committed on the job will result in loss of pension. In other words, if a teacher abuses a student after school hours or on the weekend, that teacher will continue to receive a pension at taxpayer expense!

I refuse to put my name on legislation that will be used as a pawn to advocate for higher taxes. This bill falls well short of the real pension reform that California taxpayers desperately need and demand. At the current rate, our state will be in a fiscal hole too deep to escape before any small savings from this “comprehensive” reform bill are realized. We cannot continue to nibble around the edges. We need honest and serious pension reform, and we need it now.

Story First Published: 2012-10-03