WatchSonoma Watch

Brown plan to revamp pensions gets mixed reaction


Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to overhaul public pensions rippled through the North Bay on Thursday, drawing mixed reaction from public employees, labor leaders, elected officials and fiscal watchdogs.

Aspects of his 12-point proposal could impact nearly all of Sonoma County’s approximately 25,000 state, city, school and county workers. But the most sweeping changes would apply to future hires only.

Among the major proposals, Brown wants all employees to share equally with their employers in the cost of pension contributions. He also calls for increasing the retirement age for future hires.

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses his proposal to rollback public employee pension benefits Thursday during a news conference at the Capitol. AP PHOTO

Details of the plan were just beginning to filter to local workers Thursday, but several said they were frustrated by what they said were more attempts to balance the state’s books on the backs of public employees.

“I’m just disappointed,” said Ryan Green, 31, a clerk for the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. He said state workers have endured unpaid furloughs and increased personal contributions to their pensions and benefits.

“I can see why we’re easy targets, but there are a lot of hard-working people working for the state,” Green said.

Brown’s plan would shift future employees from a traditional pension — where taxpayers bear the burden of payment regardless of fund losses — to a hybrid plan with 401(k)-type accounts similar to those in the private sector.

Brown’s proposals would not alter pension obligations due current public employees. But Dave Bissell, 52, who makes about $57,000 a year as a chief building engineer for the state Department of General Services, said he’s worried tinkering with approved benefits now may lead to reductions for retirees later.

“It’s a totally slippery slope,” he said.

Brown’s plan comes as local governments wrestle with their own costly retirement systems. In Sonoma County, a report is due out next week on ways to decrease pension costs, which have soared more than 300 percent during the past decade.

David Rabbitt, one of two supervisors leading the overhaul effort in Sonoma County, said the county’s plan has similarities to Brown’s, which he called a “great start.”

“How it ends up is still up in the air,” he said.

Labor leaders were split in their views. One lashed out at the proposal, saying it was the wrong way to go about changes that she said were better addressed at the negotiating table.

“Workers have done what has been asked of them,” said Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council. “It just seems unfair to impose additional rollbacks on workers without bargaining.”

Other labor leaders said the plan hits many of the same points that until now have been addressed separately either in previous state legislative efforts or in talks with local governments.

“We consider the governor’s proposal a starting point to a statewide conversation (on pension overhaul) as opposed to one on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis,” said Bill Steck, program director with Service Employees’ International Union Local 1021, Sonoma County’s largest public sector union.

According to a state lawmaker and a labor leader, most of the proposal will be subject to legislative action, making any final outcome dependent on deal-making in Sacramento. Ballot measures aimed at pension overhaul could increase political pressure on lawmakers.

Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen said Thursday he sees the proposal as part of his work on a joint legislative committee studying public pensions. He said Brown’s proposal was a “comprehensive approach” to an issue that can’t be dealt with in “piecemeal fashion.”

Allen, a former public labor leader, called most of the proposals “workable,” but said he was troubled by the governor’s bid to raise the retirement age for future hires to 67, that of Social Security.

“At what point do we ask people to keep on working?” he said.

One local advocate of pension change questioned how much of Brown’s plan could ultimately be implemented given legal constraints and opposition from organized labor. He suggested it could just be a way to defuse a hot-button political issue that faces little chance of success.

“What if he’s proposing something that he absolutely knows will never pass?” said Bob Andrews, the former owner of a benefits consulting firm who served on the city of Santa Rosa’s Pension Reform Task Force.

24 Responses to “Brown plan to revamp pensions gets mixed reaction”

  1. RUA Fish says:

    This is just smoke and mirrors. Brown is testing the public reaction to see what he has to do politically. The unions are aware of this activity and the deal is probably done. It will probably be wrong because the system needs to change. No more public service worker unions. It should be open so other people can have a basic job rather just union members. If you work for the public it must be the best bang for buck…efficency for fair and honest pay. Saftey empolyees need to change as well and follow a military type of human resource. You get into the military and you have to educate and improve self to serve the country and learn to be leaders or get out. This helps them and country. The weak and useless are weeded out. However, no upper managment should receive more than $100K and loss all the silly buybacks, etc. Fire, police, emt should be proud they can and do save people’s lives and it is just does a job with retirement.

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Bad news for those of you who think public employees can’t be fired. They can and are fired. Just because they have a right to appeal, and you are jealous that you don’t, doesn’t mean it’s a negative thing. It means that supervisors and managers have to prove they were incompetent or dishonest. Lots of times people are fired just because someone doesn’t like them-not because they don’t do their jobs competently. Being protected from that kind of harrassment is a good thing. It’s called job security.

    Though that doesn’t stop your government boss for firing you for minor things everyone does. That happens too.

  3. Zorro says:

    @ Hammer who wrote:

    Times are tough and the first place cutting should begin is at the government level. They are the ones that got us here and they can easily get us out by cutting back.


    You have been duly brainwashed by the rich and powerful to believe that public employees got us into economic mess. Did you ever read the newspapers? Did you notice that the Wall Street mumbo jumbo securities collapse caused the economic mess?

    I think you have been playing with hammers to long.

  4. bear says:

    Sorry to condradict all the experts here.

    Most public employees make less than they could in the private sector. Especially the smart ones who prop up management and elected officials.

    Most of us took less salary in exchange for the pensions and health benefits we were promised. Broken promises are lies?

    Most of us paid big bucks out of every check to fund these benefits.

    So you folks are thieves. Apparently too dumb to plan for your retirements. Apparently too dumb to take on a reasonable mortgage. Apparently too dumb to vote against corporate money and their bought-and-sold politicians.

    Is it fun being screwed without being kissed?

    This is a manufactured crisis. Every spendable dollar taken out of the eonomy is another step towards disaster.

    Every job is a good job. Employed people spend money and pay taxes. For schools, police, fire services and all that other stuff.

    Get real or we are all doomed.

  5. David J. Spencer says:

    I absolutely agree with Pearl. Most Public employees at all levels of Government–local, State, & Federal–have, for the past hundred years or so, have been protected by a Civil Service System. This usually means that after passing a probationary period, which can vary in length from six months to two or more years, an employee cannot be discharged without undergoing a hearing in which wrongdoing must be proved, and adverse outcomes from these hearings can be appealed all the way up to the State & U.S. Supreme Courts.

    Private sector employees do not have this protection. A bad boss? Tough luck. Best you’ll get is unemployment if you can show your boss did something crooked.

    As Pearl so aptly noted, there really is no need for Public Employee unions.

    Civil Service gives all the protection that is needed.

  6. brown act jack says:

    where, oh where, were you people when the pension raises came before the county and the city? Sitting safe at home in your easy chair watching TV, or drinking wine.

    If you don’t watch what the politicans do, then don’t be surprised when they give your mmoney away.

    they do it every meeting, in one form or another, assuring the public it is all for the good of the populace as a whole.

    SMART, ATT building, Green energy, Solar power wiring for new buildings, redevelopment money for Railroad Square, the Cannery, Coddingtown, and you still sit at home and don’t complain to the city council.

    Too much trouble to get off your butts and go to CC and talk for 3 minutes at the end of the meeting!

    And think that not permitting the comments of people who do go to be censored by not televising the comments.

    What on earth do you expect if you do not participate?

    Oh, you vote! And then don’t consider that it is necessary to watch your electees run the city!


  7. Alex says:

    You can try to cut and paste and get all pass the buck along attitude, but the bottom line is California is no longer the Golden State but a Dead Rusted Nail. California will not pull itself out of the mess it got itself into..and by cutting the salaries of the working people and trying to pay less for talent…well, let’s just say, thank God he signed the Dream Act to keep the illegals here.

  8. The Hammer says:

    These pensions are funded with my dollar and I’m tired of it. Charity begins at home and I need the bucks for myself.

    Really, why should there be a public pension at all? Let them save as I do. If I can’t save for my retirement, then too bad for me. I’m an adult and I should be responsible for myself.

    Times are tough and the first place cutting should begin is at the government level. They are the ones that got us here and they can easily get us out by cutting back.

    Fix the roads!

  9. truth in news says:

    Just like a democrap to take from the people who work and give to those who don’t! Why don’t we solve the cash problem by charging mexico for ever illegal incarcerated here? Or evertime one goes to the hospital, or sends a kid to public school, or gets caught driving and causing an accident? Nope, easier to take from the working folks here legally!

  10. Pearl Alquleres says:

    If we just ban Public Employee Unions completely this and MANY other problems go away.
    I know many of you gasp at the thought, but lets think about this…

    Unions were created to protect workers from employers who would exploit and abuse them…

    1st of all, since when does the GOVERNMENT abuse & exploit it’s employees? I mean REALLY!!?? THE GOVERNMENT??!!

    2nd since the days of the sweat shops when Unions were the only recourse we have enacted TONS of laws and regulations, even created entire GOVERNMENT agencies (State Labor Board, OSHA, MSHA, etc..) to protect ALL employees from such abuses.

    So why?
    Why do we “need” Public Employee Unions?

    The irony of Unions designed to protect employees from abuse & exploit, morphing into Unions that abuse & exploit the TAX PAYER is disgusting at best.

  11. John bly says:

    I guess teachers are included in this too. Big dollar savings. Predictable opposition view taken by union spokespeople. I give Brown credit for bringing it up, but our State will never pass it as unions are too powerful.

  12. John T says:

    Brown’s plan doesn’t go far enough, soon enough, to have any appreciable short term impact.

    Exempting the sacred cow called “public safety” from most of the requirements gives Brown’s proposal about the same value as a Press Democrat editorial, with the same likely result: it doesn’t solve the problem, but it sells newspapers.

  13. John says:

    @ Jim – “the union-controlled polticians…”

    Why no mention of the corporate controlled politicians? They have ZERO limits on what they can give to politicians unlike unions which do have limits. Who has more influence? Follow the money. Again, Corporate donations are unlimited. (BTW politicians wrote that law)Hmmmm I wonder why?

    Also re- “workers should save in a 457 (similar to a 401k) in hopes of having something for retirement. This is how it works in the private sector, where people work for companies that generate their own income.”

    Private sector companies used to have pensions. Guaranteed pensions! Of course until they decided to RAID the pension funds and declare them bankrupt. Just another example of corporate greed at the expense of the working stiff. This has a trickle down effect for all other workers. Therefore we All earn less. It’s really sad that people are supporting such criminal actions.

    Yet unions are the bad guys!(sarcasm)

  14. Steve Klausner says:

    @Steve Humphrey
    I’m going stick up for the Governor, I voted for him twice.

    Moonbeam, how did he get that nickname? I heard the press conference and had been reading Arthur C. Clarke, so it made sense to me, when after a Sunday breakfast with NASA engineers, Brown suggested that satellite communications might find service in the State of California.

    Humphrey, soak your cell phone in the toilet, he was right.

  15. RAW says:

    Now if he can address welfare reform, a much bigger pice of the Sate pie, it would be appreciated.

  16. Something Has to be Done says:

    Brown’s plan has as much chance to pass the California legislature as a snowball in hell.

    The public unions which control the legislature will never allow Brown’s plan to pass in anything that is remotely recognizable.

    There will be a lot of noise about reform and great wringing of hands, but nothing of real substance will come out of it. They will many committee meetings, conferences, news conferences and reasons why they couldn’t do this or that.

    Bottom line, the unions don’t care if they break the California taxpayers. Someone will come to the rescue.

  17. Non Violent says:

    Mixed reaction to public pension changes?

    Lets guess.

    Reaction from private sector minimum wage workers: positive reaction.

    Reaction from parasite public employees: negative reactions.

  18. mike says:

    ahh yes lets raise the retirement age and then watch the cost of workmans comp go through the roof.

  19. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @Jim – the unfunded liability is already being taken care of. CalPERS has raised rates. But this means public employees become more expensive. By Brown requiring a 50-50 split, you are lowering the cost immediately (at least if you assume that employee will not get a bump in salary to compensate for their extra retirement costs).
    @John – won’t affect jobs/unemployment until 30 years down the road, since it only applies to new employees.

  20. Lets be Reasonable says:

    Seems like a fairly reasonable approach. And unlike Meg Whitman, Brown’s approach includes Public Safety, which is where the biggest costs are occurring.
    Though I personally don’t think going to a hybrid plan makes much sense, at least the 401k portion is kept to only 1/3 of the total, and it will be managed by professionals instead of individual employees either doing it themselves, or having to hire someone (too bad lobbyists!).
    One thing that did not get changed for current employees that is questionable is the ability of County managers to spike their retirement by cashing out their unused vacation at retirement, boosting their highest single year by up to 20%, and thus their retirement. But I guess if they had had included current employees, then you would have had a mass migration – leave now and get 20%, or work another 7 years under new system before your retirement would catch up…
    It will be interesting to see how different employee groups get to the 50-50 cost sharing. For miscellaneous employees you are probably talking about 4 or 5% of salary, whereas for public safety it might be in the 15 to 20% range. I’m assuming this will happen through bargaining, but that is not clear.

  21. Steve Humphrey says:

    I didn’t vote for Moonbeam but if he keeps introducing the tough and neccessary legislation to right the State of California next time I might!

  22. GAJ says:

    My lord, the Unions are grousing that they might have to put up one dollar towards their pension while the employer puts up a matching dollar?

    In my 401k for every $20 I chose to put in I was matched $4; and I thought that was very generous.

    The biggest cuts should fall on Public Safety and others at similar obscene levels of Pension benefits.

  23. John says:

    A side effect to raising retirement ages is there will be fewer job openings for people who are currently out of work. I don’t know if that’s bad or not but it wont help re-start the economy. We need more living wage jobs for that.

  24. Jim says:

    First off, I predict this will go nowhere. Any real impact on the $500B unfunded liability in CA (not mentioned in this article…hmmm) will take decades to occur. And the union-controlled polticians would never actually make the necessary changes.

    Let help the quoted union employees out…in the REAL WORLD people same a portion of their salaries in a 401k in hopes of getting some sort of retirement in the future. A pension is a guaranteed payout, regardless of how much was put aside. There is a calculation based on years-of-service and salary that generates your LIFETIME pension. The real world doesn’t have any guarantees. The fact that government workers are guaranteed anything after they stop working (paid for by the taxpayer) is a joke.

    Pensions should be eliminated and all government workers should save in a 457 (similar to a 401k) in hopes of having something for retirement. This is how it works in the private sector, where people work for companies that generate their own income. Guaranteed pensions shouldn’t exist in the public sector where employees are paid via money taken out of the economy via taxes and fees.