The Republicans Were Right

Brown's pension proposal should be supported


Jerry Brown has just come out with a proposal to reduce public employee pensions throughout the state, and let me tell you it is a big smackdown to the unions.

As someone who spent several years studying the details of public employee pensions the level of cuts that he has proposed is very significant and gratifying. Pensions were the biggest sore spot for overextended California taxpayers and Brown has finally tackled this issue head on.

One wonders why he did not do this sooner, when he was trying to get his budget balancing plan that included extending tax increases last year. Many voters including myself were willing to support that if there were significant spending cuts first, and first on the list were overinflated pensions.

Republicans held the line and said, no tax increases only spending cuts, and that if we held out the cuts would come. The public went along with that in polls that were taken, and the vote for the taxes never happened. And now what they predicted has come to pass with this proposal of Brown's. The Republicans were right and deserve credit for holding the line here.

For Napa County and City, this has been a difficult issue. Both entities have cut pensions to new employees in the last year, which is politically difficult to do because it hurts employee morale to see their fellow employees get reduced benefits compared to other local governments. Napa was already average on pay and benefits, but our governments stepped out ahead and reduced benefits anyway, the right thing to do and they should be commended for that.

But the pensions need to be cut more in my view, because they are still too high. But this needs to happen on a state level so that the county or city doesn't feel like the ignored step child. Tackling this statewide is a key part of Brown's proposal, all state, all counties and cities on the same plan. This is a key and very positive part of Brown's proposal.

Here is a site you can read an outline of what he proposes.


They include having employees pay half of their pension costs; right now in Napa they pay about a quarter to a third of the cost, depending on the specific employee group. It also includes raising the retirement age to 67, a huge cost savings. More than I would have asked for.

Another key feature is putting most of the pension in a 401K type plan, making the employee take the risk of having their own investment, rather than a guaranteed benefit. This idea is very popular with those in the public who criticize the pensions as excessive, including the Napa County grand jury, but I don't think it is really a good idea.

The reason is that the amount the government has to match each year will be constantly subject to negotiation, and if the salaries are high enough and the contribution is high enough it won't really save money, nor will it end the constant battle.

My conclusion is that we need to just put a cap on the amount anyone can receive. That will end the negotiations in which the taxpayers invariably lose. The League of California Cities, a government group, put out a report in 2005 saying that what a person needs to maintain their current life style when they retire is 70% of their salary. They then went on to recommend a 100% pension for government employees, but hey, they are a government group.

Safety should be capped at 70%, everyone else at 50%. Those are still very generous retirements, but it will save a lot of money. That will mean that it will be worth it to keep working as long as you can and cut down on early retirements. A simple cap like that would solve most of the problems associated with the current system.

In any case, Brown's plan is outstanding and now that he is really coming through with some substantial cuts we have to give both him and his Republican detractors credit. Let's vote this into law.

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Michael Haley November 06, 2011 at 05:50 PM
One more thought, I don't think I can give any kudos to the unions yet,if they agree to a better plan then I will. They did in Napa.
joanelle bala November 09, 2011 at 04:18 PM
I think making a blanket statement of "I don't think I can give any kudos to the unions yet," is a bold and very generic statement. I doubt you are so far in the know that you are savvy on all the different benefits, plans, costs, contributions etc. etc. to criticize, oh wait, you complimented Napa..... Hmmm.
Michael Haley November 09, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Joanelle, what I am referring to is giving the unions kudos in reacting to Brown's plan, and I am referring to state wide unions which have opposed any real reform at every turn. I expect them to wage a battle against whatever the legislature puts on the ballot if they even do, as the unions will fight even that. In terms of the local unions, they did agree to some cuts, which I appreciate, but as I said I still don't think they have gone far enough. And you are correct, I don't know everything but am entitled to give an opinion if for no other reason than I am one of the ones paying for allt his. I have spent years studying them however as well.
joanelle bala November 09, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Michael, I absolutely appreciate opinions, I certainly have my own. However, it's offensive to me when statements are made about unions, even political groups, as though they are all the same, good/bad/indifferent. I for one, am part of a union, I know a little bit about my pay, benefits, contributions, etc. I also spent years in corporate America, I wouldn't dare generalize any of them. No matter what your job is, your paying for "others" , not just union employees.
Michael Haley November 09, 2011 at 05:01 PM
Joanelle, there is really no other way to talk about the larger issues that face us in some ways. This is a criticism I have seen many times before, to myself and others, and the answer is always the same. We talk about women generically, about Republicans, Napans, etc etc and I don't see why unions would be any exception. Generalizing is not necessarily stereotyping or biased. It is necessary to communicate in some ways. You said that you appreciate opinions. Isn't that generalizing? The point is that generalizing is unavoidable if you want to have a converstation. There is no doubt that the state employee unions have opposed reform of pensions for years. Maybe they are changing now, we are starting to see some changes on some local levels but my sense is that even the Napa unions have been none too happy about it. As a union member, are you behind some pension reform including reductions?


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