A grassroots effort to junk Ventura County’s defined-benefit pension plan and replace it with a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan took a step forward on June 2, when County Clerk and Recorder Mark Lunn certified that enough signatures have been collected to place the initiative on the November ballot.
Advocates for the so-called Initiative for Pension Fairness and Sustainability said the group submitted more than 40,000 signatures by Ventura County voters — 14,000 more than the 26,000 required for certification.
The reform effort would apply to public-sector employees, including police and firefighters, in unincorporated Ventura County. Only new hires, beginning July 1, 2015, or later, would be put into the 401(k)-style plan.
The initiative language will go before the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on June 10.
The proposed reform would result in $460 million in total savings over 15 years while at the same time eliminating $1.8 billion in pension debt, according to a study by the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation commissioned by pension-reform advocates.
Others have said the savings might not be that significant because the new pension system could force the county to offer higher salaries to compete against Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and other cities that would still offer traditional pensions. Public-sector officials including Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean have also said that the reform would make it harder to recruit talented police and other public servants to the county, which has a relatively high cost of living compared to other parts of the country.
Pension reform catapulted into the public sphere last year after the Pacific Coast Business Times reported that former Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks was suing the county for a $75,000 annual supplement for his existing $283,000 pension.