Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Backers of pension-cutting initiative cleared to collect signatures

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A measure that would give government agencies in California the ability to reduce future pension benefits of current employees has been qualified to gather signatures for possible inclusion on the November ballot.

But the measure's main backer, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, says Attorney General Kamala Harris incorrectly edited the measure's title and summary.

Reed said he is now checking with other backers to decide whether to seek signatures this year, or delay the measure until the 2016 election when a larger and presumably younger and more pension-wary electorate is voting.

Reed's Coalition for Fair and Sustainable Pensions would have until June 5 to collect more than 800,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Reed's unhappiness starts with the name.  Reed and the mayors of Anaheim, San Bernardino and Pacific Grove, and a former Vallejo mayor, had called their proposal the Pension Reform Act of 2014.

Harris' office reviewed the measure and gave it a new name: Public Employees. Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Harris' summary of the initiative says it would eliminate constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for such current public employees as teachers, nurses and peace officers.

Reed disagreed that the measure eliminates constitutional protections. He said that case law, not the constitution, protects vested pension benefits of current public employees from changes.

The measure, if passed, would amend the constitution to give California governing boards such as city councils the ability to cut benefits and increase worker contributions if the retirement plans are substantially underfunded or if the agency declares a fiscal emergency.


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