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Pension Cutters Lose in Court, Vow 2016 Ballot Bid

Bill Raden

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris and outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed

California pension cutters suffered another setback last week when a state appellate court rejected their claims that ballot language written by Attorney General Kamala Harris showed political bias.

The decision by Sacramento’s 3rd District Court of Appeal “dismissed as moot” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s appeal of a lower court ruling. This effectively leaves in place Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner’s March decision that Reed had failed to prove Harris’ ballot summary was misleading.

“We’re not going to get a hearing on the merits,” Reed told Capital & Main. “It shows how difficult it is to try to get through the court system in an election cycle; it means you have to start earlier.”

Legally, the two rulings sound a final death knell for Reed’s contentious statewide campaign to put his self-described Pension Reform Act of 2014 before California voters. In practical terms, the campaign was over last January after Harris’ ballot language highlighted the initiative’s proposed elimination of constitutional protections for such public employees as teachers, nurses and police officers.

That wording prompted Reed to file his lawsuit against Harris in February.

Read More Capital & Main Pension Coverage Here

The termed-out Reed, whose own tenure as San Jose Mayor officially ends on January 1, admitted that he was disappointed by the dismissal.

Reed said that he hadn’t yet met with lawyers about taking the case any further but described the odds of petitioning the California Supreme Court as “fairly low.” He nevertheless confirmed his determination to redraft the initiative in order to get it onto the 2016 ballot.

He may have his work cut out for him. Reed became an overnight star on the national pension reform stage after convincing San Jose voters to pass his pension-cutting Measure B in June, 2012. But more than two years later, that effort has left the city embroiled in lawsuits and created discord among San Jose’s municipal employees, especially its hard-hit police and fire personnel.

For Mike Durant, President of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), a legislative advocacy group serving 67,000 member cops throughout California and Nevada, last week’s court dismissal is just another sign that Reed’s time in California’s pension-reform sun is over.

“We feel that the decision was not significant in and of itself to any pension reform discussion,” said Durant. “In our opinion, it was simply Mayor Reed trying to politically take on the Attorney General, which just, again, added to the list of his losses.”

Those losses, Durant pointed out, include November’s decisive rejection by Phoenix, Arizona voters of Proposition 487, a pension-cutting measure also financed by Reed’s bankroller, the Texas hedge-fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold.

Given that rebuff and the rebounding economy, Durant says that he doesn’t see much hope for Reed and Arnold in 2016:

“In our opinion, Reed is [merely] looking to keep a venue out there to keep his name in the paper and in front of the media. I would [say] that politically it’s time for Mayor Reed and his allies to move on.”

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