Faced with growing doubts about his ability to get his tax increase plan passed in November, Gov. Jerry Brown has taken a couple of steps forward on the pension front.
In essence, he’s forced the Democrats in charge of the California Assembly to accept a range of reforms impacting new employees. Among them are lifetime caps on benefits, delayed retirement ages and other tweaks that will shave millions of dollars from the beleaguered system over time.
But many experts agree that the reforms themselves won’t fix California’s deep pension woes. That’s partly because the reforms leave in place a large amount of defined benefits to be paid to new hires. It’s also because the reforms, which don’t apply to most large cities and many big special districts, don’t save a nickel from existing and overgenerous programs.
And finally there is the problem of California’s persistent revenue shortfall when it comes to tax collections. The shortfalls are leaving the general fund billions of dollars short of the amounts needed to make the catch-up contributions that are essential to filling the deep pension holes in our state budget.
Brown is a savvy politician who knows that if he just stands there and does nothing, his proposed tax increases under Proposition 30 could be overturned by a cranky electorate. The problem with taking the half-measures agreed to with the legislative leadership is that they don’t address the problem in a meaningful way and they open the door to charges the man formerly known as Gov. Moonbeam is once again out of touch with reality, thanks to the millions found squirreled in reserve accounts and his failure to really fix pensions.
Brown has taken some welcome but inadequate steps on the state pension front. Whether this will help him pass Prop. 30 remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, area organizations such as the Ventura County Economic Development Association have voted to oppose the measure, citing the fact that it unfairly holds educational institutions hostage to a tax plan that may not fix the budget problem. Prop. 30 faces an uphill fight indeed.