10:26 PM PDT on Wednesday, October 13, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger soon will sign legislation that rolls back retirement benefits for state workers, achieving a years-long goal after he and the Legislature’s Republican caucuses demanded pension changes as part of any budget agreement.

But several Inland GOP members nevertheless opposed the measure or abstained from voting during last week’s all-night session, amid heavy lobbying by the union representing prison guards.

The bill changes pension formulas for new workers to what they were before lawmakers improved them in 1999. The changes would apply to workers without collective bargaining agreements with the state.

In a floor speech late Thursday, state Sen. Bob Dutton accused the governor’s office of trying to use the bill to punish the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the largest union without a contract. Lawmakers ratify the pacts.

“What I’d really like to see is…the administration to go and deal with the CCPOA and actually bring a (contract) to the floor,” said Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, who became Senate GOP leader Monday. “Because this will end up being used, I feel, unfairly, against them as a bargaining tool.”

Dutton later voted against the bill, along with four other Republicans in the Senate. In the Assembly, Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, and Kevin Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore, were the only Republicans present who did not support the measure. Some Democrats also voted no or abstained.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear criticized the GOP lawmakers.

“Republicans who preach fiscal responsibility and then vote against pension reform or hide under their desks when it’s time to vote have absolutely no credibility on government spending or reform,” McLear said.

Of Dutton, McLear added, “It does not bode well for Republicans that their new leader cares more about taking care of the unions than he does the taxpayers.”

New workers

The Legislature’s majority Democrats, close allies of state employee unions, had resisted the proposal for months. They finally agreed to it last week.

For workers hired after Jan. 15, 2011, the bill requires non-safety workers to be at least 60 before they can begin collecting a pension based on 2 percent of their salary for every year worked. A 1999 bill lowered the age to 55.

Public safety workers will need to be 55 before they began collecting a pension based on 2.5 percent of their salary for every year worked. The 1999 bill set it at 3 percent at age 50.

It also bases retirement payouts on a three-year average instead of just a single year.

Recently negotiated deals between the state and employees unions reflect the legislation, officials said. Little more than 24 hours before the vote, the largest state employees union, SEIU Local 1000, came to terms with the governor.

That left the prison guards association as the largest union still without a deal, with none on the horizon. The union and the Schwarzenegger administration have a strained relationship.

As lawmakers prepared to vote on the budget package, union leaders and members flooded the Capitol to lobby against the pension bill.

In a letter to state senators, the union’s executive vice president Chuck Alexander wrote, “State collective bargaining law already tilts in the direction of the employer. To further tilt that relationship in favor of the state will have long-term negative effect on collective bargaining and public safety.”

Little time

Cook said there was little time to read the bill before a vote early Friday.

“It just seemed like they were singling out certain unions,” Cook said of the administration. “I thought there was a hidden agenda from the governor and I didn’t want to get caught up in that.”

Jeffries contended that the governor abandoned GOP lawmakers during a 2005 pension fight.

“Now he’s got religion and expects everybody to be on board,” Jeffries said. “I don’t like being caught up in a game and I don’t like being rushed to vote.”

Dutton said he thinks the bill will make it harder to recruit well-qualified correctional officers. He also doubts if the new contracts and the rollback of the 1999 law will produce the “pension reform people expect.”

“Hopefully I’m wrong,” he said Tuesday.

Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, voted for last week’s bill. “We definitely need pension reform,” he said.

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