Three Strikes for Reed’s Pension Measure?

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

December has been the cruelest month for San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and his ballot measure designed to slash the retirement benefits of firefighters, teachers, police officers and other public employees.

The first hit was a long-awaited assessment of the measure by the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts Office (LAO). As expected, the LAO noted that there could be long-term savings from reducing benefits if the measure passed. But it also pointed out that annual costs could increase “hundreds of millions to billion over the next two decades for governments choosing to increase contributions for unfunded liabilities.”

In other words, there’d be none of the immediate fiscal relief to communities that Reed has been touting as the raison d’etre for his measure.  Calpensions.com editor Ed Mendel noted in his review of the analysis that “Ironically, the part of the initiative intended to strengthen not cut retirement benefits created an apparent weak spot” for Reed.

Piling on, the LAO also noted that the Reed measure would likely spur a series of lawsuits that could cost taxpayers dearly (for example, in his own city, Reed has budgeted $5 million of taxpayer dollars to defend Measure B, his local attempt to attack pensions). CalPERS already has signaled that it would go to court to protect its interests if Reed’s measure should pass. Unions would likely also take the matter to court, which the LAO noted would jack up the cost of the measure to the state’s taxpayers.

That brings us to the second blow to Reed’s measure this month: a Monday ruling a Santa Clara judge that struck down key provisions in Reed’s Measure B. In a huge win for unions, the judge rejected Reed’s attempt to eliminate the “vested rights” of public employees. That provision is the core of Reed’s statewide measure, throwing the legality of his whole initiative into doubt.

The Reed measure also its third body blow this month when a poll by Washington, D.C.-based Garin-Hart-Yang Research showed the measure enjoyed the support of only 36 percent of California voters. The only demographic group supporting the measure was white Republican males; even GOP women opposed it in the poll.

If that all weren’t enough, the icing of the cake might be a self-inflicted wound by Reed himself. Late last week, Reed filed a lawsuit against the Fair Political Practices Commission, challenging the state’s campaign finance reporting law http://www.mercurynews.com/internal-affairs/ci_24782558/chuck-reed-appeals-1-fine and casting a shadow on his knight-in-shining-armor pension crusader reputation. The FPPC appeared to be unmoved by Reed’s lawsuit, telling the Mercury News: “The FPPC welcomes the chance to vigorously defend California law to limit campaign funds and demand disclosure from all elected officials and candidates.”

Will Reed’s measure survive this streak of bad news? We’ll know in a few weeks when Attorney General Kamala Harris issues her title and summary on the measure and Reed says he’ll make a decision whether to make a push to gather signatures to put it on the November 2014 ballot.

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