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Brown Releases Plan For Calif. Pension Changes

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Gov. Jerry Brown

California Governor Jerry Brown looks on before delivering the State of the State address at the State Capitol on January 31, 2011 in Sacramento. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown released a 12-point proposal to revamp California’s public-employee pensions Thursday, drawing immediate outcry from state workers complaining that it asks too much and from Republican lawmakers who said it doesn’t go far enough.

The proposals target practices that critics say drive up costs for taxpayers and provide public-sector workers with far more generous benefits than private workers receive.

The package includes specific bill language to limit pension spiking, the practice of boosting pension benefits with a big raise in the last year before a worker retires. Instead, pensions would be based on a three-year average of base pay, not overtime or unused vacation time.

It also would ban retroactive pension benefit increases, “holidays” when employers do not have to contribute to pensions, cash payments to raise pension benefits and paying benefits to workers who have been convicted of an employment-related felony. Brown’s package also would prohibit the state and local governments from paying an employee’s share of pension contributions.

Several other changes are still being developed, Brown said. They include a cap on benefits, limits on employees returning to government work after they retire and a shift toward a hybrid plan in which employees would be responsible for part of their retirement planning.

Brown, a Democrat, won election last year in part on a platform of pension reform, and much of that platform is reflected in Thursday’s proposal.

Republican lawmakers had pushed during budget negotiations for more extensive pension changes, but both sides say the talks broke down last week over other issues such as a spending cap and tax changes.

“We’re pleased to see that the governor is interested in pension reform,” said Sabrina Lockhart, spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

Nevertheless, the said Republican lawmakers are unhappy that Brown is looking to run it through the Legislature, which could easily change the rules in the future, rather than put the plan before voters, where it would be much harder to undo.

“There are more protections for the taxpayers if the voters approve,” Lockhart said.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said the GOP supports most of Brown’s proposals but wants the public to vote on them and doesn’t believe a voluntary hybrid pension system will work.

“Governor Brown’s proposal assumes public employees will volunteer for lower benefits, which ignores reality,” Dutton said in a statement.

Public employee groups said state workers already have made pension concessions while negotiating new contracts that have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

Brown’s proposals “fly in the face of collective bargaining law and amount to a breach of agreements that state government has made with millions of workers in California,” said Dave Low, chairman of a coalition of public employee unions. “California’s policymakers need to take a careful look at the billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy in our state budget before they launch an assault on California’s middle class.”

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