Capitol and California – The State Worker
By Jon Ortiz The Sacramento Bee
Published: Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Get ready for a new round of debate over public pensions that could shape California’s intensifying budget talks and even wind up putting some sort of rollback on the legislative agenda.

The bipartisan Little Hoover Commission plans to release a report today on California’s public pensions, complete with suggested changes.

The independent oversight commission investigates government operations and devises ways to increase efficiency, improve service and save money. It’s been looking at government worker pensions for months.

The commission’s pension recommendations have been tightly held secrets that will be tweaked almost to the moment they’re published online this afternoon. But Republicans expect it will prescribe some tough medicine that will affirm their push for cutting the state’s employer pension costs.

The state’s general fund, which faces a $26.6 billion deficit through June, will send CalPERS about $2.15 billion for employee pension benefits this year. Employees also pay a percentage of their wages toward their pensions. CalPERS investments cover the largest share of pension costs.

In an interview with The Bee’s Capitol Bureau staff last week, Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga said that his caucus will probably “lean pretty heavily on taking (the commission’s) recommendations” to write pension legislation.

Dutton said his party isn’t ready to trade pension rollbacks to support Brown’s budget proposal, which includes putting a tax extension up for statewide vote.

On the other hand, Republicans are itching to cut more deeply into public pension costs even though several state worker unions have agreed to concessions, such as higher employee contributions and lower benefits for new hires.

Dutton’s remarks put Little Hoover on notice that there’s plenty of interest in its report, and the commission’s staff pressed to have it ready for discussion and a vote at today’s 12:30 p.m. public meeting. Otherwise, the matter would have to wait until the monthly meeting in March.

State workers should also keep an eye out next week for more recommendations from Little Hoover in response to a request from Gov. Jerry Brown.

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