California Governor Jerry Brown holds a press conference in his Los Angeles office. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times / June 16, 2011)

By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
November 9, 2011

Reporting from Sacramento— Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to alter public pension benefits is courageous but legally dicey, and key pieces of it have not been fully developed, according to a new report from California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The report praised the governor for offering “a bold starting point for legislative deliberations” on pensions. And it lauded Brown’s call to combine a 401(k)-style savings plan with the existing guaranteed-benefit system and raise the retirement age for most future public employees from 55 to 67. Those proposals would save the state millions of dollars down the road.

Brown, who announced his plan last month, also wants to require current workers to pay a larger share of their retirement costs. That, the report says, “is a legal and collective-bargaining minefield.… It will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for the Legislature, local governments or voters to mandate such changes.”

Existing law protects current workers’ benefits, the report says.

The governor’s spokesman, Evan Westrup, responded to the report in a statement and did not directly address the criticism of the plan, saying only, “We welcome the LAO’s analysis as we move forward to achieve these critical reforms.”

Lawmakers rely on the analyst’s office for unbiased fiscal advice. Deputy Legislative Analyst Jason Sisney, author of the report, said that according to his office’s reading of state law, Sacramento and local governments are virtually powerless to make some of the changes Brown wants to save money in the short term.

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