By Jon Ortiz
jortiz@sacbee.com
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 – 10:50 am

A majority of California voters support Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to dial back public employee pensions and a plurality think that state and local government retirements are “too generous,” according to a new Field Poll.

A little more than half – 51 percent – said that Brown’s pension proposal “strikes about the right balance.”

Poll director Mark DiCamillo said that finding shows that Brown, a union-backed Democrat who introduced a 12-point pension reform plan last month, has credibility with voters.

“He hasn’t riled up one side or the other,” DiCamillo said. “He’s managed to strike the middle ground on a very polarizing issue.”

Brown’s proposals offer less generous state and local pension benefits for new hires and raises the retirement age for many, among other changes. The governor’s plan also would increase how much current employees pay toward their pensions and reduce how much employers pay in.

The slim majority of voters polled agreed with Brown’s proposals included 55 percent of registered Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans. Nearly one in four felt the plan “goes too far.”

Meanwhile, 41 percent of voters said that public retirement benefits are “too generous,” essentially mirroring a March Field Poll survey. That compares with 35 percent who said pensions are “about right” and 14 percent who believe the benefits “aren’t generous enough.”

Democrat Herb Thompson, who works in the Bakersfield oil industry, said the focus on pensions is really a thinly veiled attack on labor and the middle class.

“Even though I’m not a union guy,” Thompson said, “the unions help me,” noting that they set competitive pay and benefits that affect the state’s workforce. “I don’t think the real discussion here is about pensions. It’s about getting rid of the unions.”

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