Group: Calif. AG cost chance at pension reform

By John O'Brien | Feb 22, 2012


SACRAMENTO (Legal Newsline) - California Attorney General Kamala Harris' ballot summary of two proposed pension reforms are so misleading that they have no hope of passing, a California group says.

California Pension Reform had hoped to put the measures on the 2012 ballot but announced earlier this month that it was suspending its effort. The group could not raise enough money to mount a petition effort.

"California Pension Reform is suspending its effort to qualify an initiative for the 2012 ballot after determining that the Attorney General's false and misleading title and summary makes it nearly impossible to pass," CPR president Dan Pellissier said.

"We will continue to push our elected representatives to reform our broken pension system and if they fail we will focus on qualifying an initiative for 2014.

"California taxpayers face more than $240 billion in pension debts that grow every year, a brutal math problem that requires courageous leadership instead of the special interest politics that is blocking meaningful reform today."

Two of the state's major newspapers agreed. The San Francisco Chronicle's editorial page editor, John Diaz, wrote that Harris' title and summary "could not have been cast more darkly - and, on some key points, deceptively - if they were written by the public-employee unions that oppose them."

Her summary stated that reform "Prohibits public retirement systems from providing death or disability benefits to future employees." Diaz wrote that it expressly allows public agencies to provide those benefits, just not out of the retirement system.

"Another blatantly misleading line in the attorney general's summary was the contention that the initiative 'reduces benefits for current and future employees,'" Diaz wrote.

"While the measure does propose a less generous 'hybrid' system of 401(k) and pensions for future employees, it does not - in fact, by law cannot - deprive current employees of a vested benefit."

Diaz compared the light Harris put the measure in against her summary of Gov. Jerry Brown's temporary sales and income tax increases. The proposal by Brown, a fellow Democrat and former attorney general, "guarantees funding for public safety" and results in "more stable fiscal situation for local governments."

The Sacramento Bee's Dan Walters also wrote an editorial critical of Harris.

"Harris' office defends the summaries and insists that political considerations were not involved, but the chosen words clearly make Brown's measure more palatable to voters and the pension-reform measures more onerous," Walters wrote.

"It's using political office to fix the game, and it undermines democracy."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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