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California Government Pension Initiative Receives Official Ballot Title and Language




Kamala Harris and Chuck Reed

On Tuesday California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris released the full title and summary text for the Public Employees Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits Initiative Constitutional Amendment. The title is a mouthful, but the initiative’s wording is just six sentences long.

Its first two lines read: “Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including those working in K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals and police protection, for future work performed. Adds initiative/referendum powers to Constitution, for determining public employee compensation and retirement benefits.” 

Crucially, Harris omits mention of “empowering” voters — a main selling point that had been advertised by former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed, former San Diego City Councilman and Tea Party member Carl DeMaio, and four others. In June this group submitted their proposed ballot initiative to Harris as the Voter Empowerment Act of 2016. Harris’ new title weakens their cause, whose use of the word “empowerment” sought to tap into the politics of resentment. Reed and DeMaio have been trying to appeal to some private-sector workers who largely lack the defined-benefit retirement pensions that state and local public-sector workers have.

We’re not surprised the Attorney General has taken a negative approach to our initiative,” Reed told Capital & Main by phone. “But the people can read it for themselves.”

Dave Low, the chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, which opposes Reed and DeMaio’s pension-cutting efforts, was displeased with the summary’s failure to specifically name the occupations in harm’s way.

We strongly disagree with the Attorney General’s elimination of the specific mention of teachers, nurses, police and firefighters in the title and summary,” he said in a statement. “They are the bulk of the public servants whose retirement security and death and disability benefits would be abolished by this heavy-handed measure. The inclusion of these professions in a previous version of this measure had already passed legal muster, even after multiple appeals by Chuck Reed.”

Reed and his colleagues need 585,407 valid voter signatures to qualify for the November, 2016 state ballot. “We have a long way to go before we get there,” he admitted.

This type of extreme measure will be unacceptable to California voters and is doomed to fail,” Low said.

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