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California State Senate Approves Contracts For 6 Unions

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SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — The Senate on Monday approved six labor contracts covering more than 50,000 prison guards, engineers, scientists and other California state workers, despite concern from some lawmakers that they save less money than originally hoped.

It took two tries to win approval of the contracts. The Senate needed 27 votes to pass SB151, including votes from two Republican lawmakers. The first time the measure came up, it received only one GOP vote, from Sen. Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo.

A few hours later, Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres, also signed on. The legislation now goes to the Assembly.

KCBS and Chronicle Insider Phil Matier Comments:

Cannella said he used the additional time to make sure the pacts really demanded that state employees pay more for their pensions and benefits, and that he hopes to keep pushing for additional pension changes. “I felt at a time when we’re cutting from other areas that it was important that the employees take a cut,” Cannella said after the vote.

Many GOP senators questioned whether that cut was big enough.

Supporters say the contracts will save the state about $300 million, including $100 million from the state’s general fund, and include higher worker contributions toward their retirement. Critics said Gov. Jerry Brown was shooting for $515 million in savings, including about $300 million in the general fund, but fell short of that goal.

California faces a $15 billion general fund deficit in the fiscal year that starts July 1, even after billions in cuts. Republicans balked at Brown’s proposal to close the gap with extensions of tax and fee increases that are set to expire by July 1, and have also pushed for regulatory reform and cost cutting through more pension changes.

The contracts approved in the Senate Monday increase the amount workers pay toward their own pensions, adding anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent of total salary to the cash they contribute. The increases are in the same ballpark as in labor contracts negotiated by the Schwarzenegger administration.

But critics said the state needs more. The bill “scores a little bit of savings this year and costs a lot more down the road,” said Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar. Because the new contracts don’t save as much as Brown wanted, Huff said, the unrealized savings will have to come from schools or somewhere else in the budget.

“We have to do this in the context of the budget,” he said.

The pacts save money now, solve issues that have made it more difficult to efficiently manage the state’s prisons and include “substantial pension savings,” said Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, who introduced the bill.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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