As California politicos bask in the post-primary afterglow, countless experts are quick to offer their take on the winners and losers in last week’s primary election. However, one person who stands to be a big winner may not have even appeared on the ballot: Governor Jerry Brown.
Just two months ago, an Assembly committee tabled discussion of the Governor’s 12-point pension plan, which I introduced. The committee acknowledged the importance of the issue, but sent the bill to interim study for a discussion at a later date. Their message was clear: we don’t want to deal with this now.
Last Tuesday, voters in San Jose and San Diego sent an even stronger message. Two-thirds of voters in each of those cities supported major overhauls of their local pension systems – in the case of San Diego, even voting to eliminate pensions altogether for new hires. Since 2010, 18 local pension reform measures have passed, garnering an average of 65 percent of the vote. Over that same period, only two pension reform measures failed.
Tuesday’s election merely reinforced what we already know. The public clearly recognizes that current pension obligations are unsustainable and, left unchecked, will cripple state and local governments. The Legislature, however, continues to display no sense of urgency about one of the biggest challenges facing our state. Instead, they cling to the hope that one or more of the tax measures on the November ballot will be the magic bullet that solves all of our fiscal problems.
As much as the local measures are indicative of the public’s appetite for pension reform, the failure of Proposition 29 illustrates the unwillingness of voters to embrace a tax increase – even a relatively small one on a limited group of people. Democrats and the Governor can’t be very excited about going back to the voters six months later with multiple measures aimed at imposing larger tax increases on even more people. It’s like asking for a quarter, getting turned down, and then asking for a hundred bucks.
The political reality is that voters want to see reform before they will support a tax increase. If I were in Governor Brown’s shoes, I’d engage the Speaker and the Pro Tem on meaningful pension reform in order to put myself in the best position to sell a tax increase to an increasingly skeptical electorate.
Members from both parties have had positive discussions about fixing egregious practices like pension spiking and purchasing of “air time” – buying additional service credit for time not worked. Other issues like implementation of a hybrid system and determining the appropriate retirement age remain unresolved, but should be the subject of a full discussion now, not later.
I’m ready to present the Governor’s plan, and my Republican colleagues stand ready to embrace a comprehensive solution. All we need is a hearing.
Assemblyman Cameron Smyth is the Assembly Assistant Republican Leader representing the 38th Assembly District