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,
On Tuesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris will release the official title and summary that will appear on the 2016 ballot for former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed’s latest statewide public-sector pension cutting initiative.
That language will finally end speculation on how far Harris will go in describing the sweeping scope of the proposed constitutional amendment. Legal analysts have charged that it contains a hidden trigger aimed at not just slashing pension benefits but annihilating 60 years of state pension law along with the vast retirement systems that together guarantee the retirement promises made to California’s public employees.
Initial clues as to what might appear on the 2016 ballot emerged last week as the first formal responses by state officials to the proposed measure began to trickle in.
The stakes for all Californians in the so-called “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” couldn’t be higher.
For Reed and his supporters,
When Democratic former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed and Republican ex-San Diego councilmember Carl DeMaio finally unveiled the language for a promised attempt at getting a statewide public pension cutting measure to 2016 voters, the expectation was that Reed II would be a reined-in and more realistically-framed version of Reed I – last year’s failed attempt at undermining the public pension system.
That try for the 2014 ballot was aborted after Attorney General Kamala Harris slapped it with a candid, albeit politically untenable summary that frankly described the proposed constitutional amendment as targeting longstanding legal rights—rights that protect the pensions and retirement health care of the 1.64 million Californians enrolled in the state’s public pension systems.
But even veterans of the state’s public-sector retirement wars were unprepared for the sheer scale of what awaited them this time around.
The newest front in the battle over the retirement security of California’s public employees opened June 4 with the release of the language for a proposed ballot initiative that would rewrite the state’s constitution to virtually outlaw traditional defined-benefit pension plans for future state and municipal workers.
The measure, dubbed “The Voter Empowerment Act of 2016,” would effectively shift all new public employees from the various defined-benefit plans currently in place to 401(k) plans, beginning in 2019. It would then lock those plans in place by adding the burden of direct voter approval on government employers who want to continue offering traditional pensions after 2019.
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The security offered by defined-benefit retirement plans has been typically used by government employers to compete with the private sector in recruiting quality candidates for public workforces.
No city offers Californians a better example of voter-approved pension-cutting than San Jose. In 2012, then-mayor Chuck Reed, who is the co-author of the new “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016,” persuaded citizens to pass Measure B. Some provisions of the San Jose law were later thrown out by a Santa Clara County Superior Court, but an uneasy atmosphere lingers over this city whose public employees were vilified by Measure B’s supporters. Capital & Main recently discussed the fallout from Measure B and previous budget cuts, with a city firefighter who requested that only his first name be used.
Capital & Main: What do you see as the biggest problem facing the San Jose Fire Department today?
Matt: Don’t get me wrong, I love the department I work for . . . Unfortunately with the budget cuts that our department [has] faced [for] over a decade,