The latest salvo on California pension reform is very different than what was proposed the last time around. This time the sponsors of the measure, former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, have clearly decided to play the propensity of some California voters to want to vote on just about everything. You can find the text of the measure here.
Almost cynically titled the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016,” the ballot measure echoes the 1960’s Black Panthers slogan “Power to the People,” though it’s pretty unlikely Reed or DeMaio were ever members of the Black Panthers. Under the measure, any time a local governmental body wants to increase pensions, it would have to refer the issue to the voters. All employees (even police and fire) hired after 2019 would be placed in a 401(k)-type plan, unless the voters approved a defined-benefit plan. Employees would have to pay 50% of pension costs unless . . . well, you get the drift.
What’s the rationale for the ballot measure? It’s because “state and local governments face a severe financial crisis due to unsustainable compensation and retirement benefits granted to government employees by state and local politicians.” Also, “state and local politicians, government agencies, and courts have blocked common-sense efforts to address this financial crisis.”
That last sentence requires some unpacking. Who are the “politicians” who have “blocked common-sense efforts to address this financial crisis”? Well, there’s one politician who sticks in the craws of Reed and DeMaio — Attorney General Kamala Harris, who wrote a description of Reed and DeMaio’s last ballot measure that they claimed misrepresented the measure. There’s the other part of that sentence — the courts. Guess how the courts ruled in Reed and DeMaio’s challenge to Harris’ description of their ballot measure.
Another article recently appeared that paints Reed in a bit of a different light than the “taxpayer savior” role the ballot measure uses. In 2013, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that Reed’s pension reform committee made an illegal contribution of $100,000 to another group. The Commission also ruled that since Reed had not intended to violate the law, his fine should be $1. Instead of forking over the $1, Reed took the commission to court and won a judgment that the fine violated his freedom of speech rights. Reed then billed the Commission for $106,173.50, and the State of California just paid the bill.
There will certainly be more on this later. It’ll be shocking if the Koch brothers don’t jump into the fight over the ballot measure, with everything that comes with their involvement.