LAUSD’s empty chair. A prep academy shuts its doors. Reed Hastings helps launch a $200 million something.
Last month former San Jose mayor Chuck Reed took the first step toward offering a promised draft of a 2016 public pension cutting initiative that, he has hinted, will target the California Public Employees’ Retirement System. CalPERS manages the retirement and health benefits for more than 1.6 million California public employees, retirees and their families. Reed tried to get a pension initiative on the ballot in 2014, only to withdraw the measure when state attorney general Kamala Harris assigned it a ballot description that Reed and his allies believed would hurt their chances with the electorate.
This time, however, Reed could find his campaign in danger from an unexpected source – conservative allies who might be worried that his initiative’s very presence on the ballot will draw huge numbers of liberal and union voters – who would then also vote against conservative candidates running for local and state office.
Jon Coupal is nothing if not blunt when he describes one motive behind a Ventura County ballot measure that would replace the “defined benefit” pensions currently enjoyed by county employees and replace them with 401(k)-type plans for all future hires.
“This is meant to be a template for other counties,” Coupal tells Capital & Main. By that, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s president means the measure’s conservative and libertarian backers see the “Sustainable Retirement System Initiative” as the newest and most promising weapon in their assault on California’s public employee retirement plans. Having failed to place similar measures on state ballots in 2012 and 2014, a coalition of wealthy individuals, anti-tax activists and government privatizers has seized on an aspect of California law that allows 20 counties to fashion their own public employee retirement policies apart from the CalPERS system that administers such policies for nearly all of the state’s remaining 38 counties.
In 2011, the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education put out a study that should have sparked mass rallies up and down the Golden State. The report found that nearly half of California workers will retire in or near poverty. In other words, a state once synonymous with the American Dream of economic opportunity and security is on a path to become a purgatory for millions of seniors.
It’s hard to square this alarming fact with the revelation last month that a group of mostly ultra-conservative electeds and activists will try to place a statewide measure on the 2014 ballot that would slash the pensions of government workers. The group, headed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, includes Texas billionaire John Arnold, who has made “pension reform” a personal crusade.
The initiative would not only cut the retirement benefits of future public sector workers,
It’s official: America has entered a retirement crisis. Or, as Forbes understatedly put it, “the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world.”
And, while the causes are manifold — the demographic bulge of baby boomers leaving the fulltime workforce; greater worker longevity; the disastrous, 30-year shift from traditional defined benefit pensions to costly 401(k)-style plans — most experts agree that the national retirement implosion has gone critical, with an estimated 75 percent of Americans who are nearing retirement age having less than $27,000 in their retirement accounts.
Even John C. Bogle, the founder of the $2 trillion mutual fund and 401(k) behemoth Vanguard Group, recently admitted that the system of retirement plans that rely on 401(k)s is broken.
“[401(k)s were] designed as a thrift plan, and it doesn’t work as a retirement plan,” Bogle declared.
So it is with some irony that a Texas hedge fund billionaire/former Enron trader and a politically ambitious Northern California mayor have teamed up to cripple one of the few parts of the retirement story that still works — California’s public-sector pension system.