Brown wants to raise California public retirement age to 67, but workers tell lawmakers that's not a great idea

California Gov. Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
California Gov. Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
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State lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to raise the retirement age of most new public workers from 55 to 67.

The hike is just part of his larger proposal to reduce billions of dollars of unfunded pension liabilities that state and local governments face. But critics of the plan say the higher retirement age will simply increase other government costs.

Waste-water operator Ruben Rodriguez told members of the joint Conference Committee on Public Employee Pensions that there’s a reason to keep retirement ages low.

"Digging a ditch, hooking up equipment is something I just can’t see someone doing until the age of 67," he said.

Rodriguez represents a union of 600 blue collar workers at the East Bay Municipal Utilities District in the San Francisco Bay Area. The longer people stay on the job, he says, the more likely they are to get hurt.

"We’re going to see an uptick in our workman’s compensation claims," argued Rodriguez. "There’s no doubt about that — and also [see an uptick in] the disability retirements."

Ann Boynton with the California Public Employees' Retirement System told lawmakers the higher retirement age makes disability a better deal for injured public safety workers than sticking with a desk job until retirement.

"Ultimately," she said, "a safety employee will have to choose to work in a less demanding job until 57 to receive a 50 percent salary replacement or retire immediately and receive the same benefit amount."

Ed Derman with the California State Teachers Retirement System says older workers also tend to use more medical care. Derman predicts higher health care insurance costs for school districts, "particularly if you consider the fact that those people who are working longer are probably displacing employees that are significantly younger."

No one at the hearing testified in support of the governor’s pension plan. Gov. Brown presented a broad outline to the committee back in December.

Last week, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to enact it. Republican state Senator Mimi Walters of Orange County wanted to know when the committee would take that up.

"If we’re serious about solving our pension crisis and the governor’s put forward a plan, don’t you think this committee should hear what his plan is and have a chance for us to look at it?" she asked.

State Democratic leaders say they support pension reform, but they’re going to take a couple more months before they respond to the governor’s proposal.