Why Pension Measure is in Trouble

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

To no one’s surprise, the backers of the measure to slash retirement security for millions of California’s public servants are squealing about the title and summary issued by Attorney General Kamala Harris last week.

Reed described it as “inaccurate and misleading.” Which is nearly identical what he said two years ago when Harris issued a similar review of the initiative.  (Reed challenged the Attorney General in Court during the last go-round. He lost.)

This year, his partner in the endeavor, losing San Diego congressional candidate Carl DeMaio, called their new version of the measure “bulletproof.” In emails to supporters, Reed and DeMaio said it had been reviewed by more than a dozen law firms.

Yet the measure now looks like Swiss cheese. Independent reviews have found gaping loses and too-cute-by-half provisions that affect death and disability benefits and impacts on existing employees — two components that would likely doom the measure at the polls.

First came an unexpected blow from the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office, which noted “significant uncertainty” in the measure. It cited likely expensive legal costs, increased taxpayer costs for higher salaries and other benefits to offset pension cuts, and other unknowns. Any savings, it noted, might well be wiped out by the unknowns of the measure’s impact.

Then CalSTRS and CalPERS, in responding to a legislative inquiry from Assemblymember Rob Bonta, provided a laundry list of negative (and costly) effects to taxpayers if the measure would pass. Most importantly, both concluded that it would affect current employees — not just existing ones, as the sponsors falsely advertised.

The latest blow came from attorney Clark Kelso, who served the State as acting California Insurance Commissioner, State Chief Information Officer, and the federal receiver for the state’s prison health care system, and who has received the California court’s highest award for service to the California judiciary. “The AG got it right,” he noted. The ‘Voter Empowerment Act of 2016’ removes the constitutional prohibition on making prospective reductions to statutory retirement benefits to public employees.”

Perhaps that is why, as Ed Mendel of CalPensions.com wrote in this space last week, a news release from DeMaio and Reed “did not cite a specific problem with the Harris summary of the initiative.”

The proponents say they are now conducting another legal review of what they wrote, and no doubt another poll.

But you have to wonder if they will go forward. It would be political malpractice if they do: even the most ardent anti-pension bashers can read a poll.

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