Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 26, 2012 – 6:33 am

California’s great public pension battles are heating up, and may be headed for some kind of political explosion.

The Legislature’s Democratic majority appears to be doing its best to ignore significant pension reform, even though Gov. Jerry Brown says the current system is “unsustainable” and an overhaul is needed to persuade voters to raise taxes this year.

Democrats are reluctant to do anything that public employee unions oppose – such as passing Brown’s 12-point pension reform plan – in a year when they’ll be running in much-changed districts and will need all the union help they can get.

With Brown’s plan stuck in neutral and an outside pension initiative dead for lack of financing, the big action will be in the state’s second- and third-largest cities, San Diego and San Jose, where unions are pulling out all the stops to prevent voters from even seeing pension reform on their ballots this year.

The mayors of both cities, Republican Jerry Sanders in San Diego and Democrat Chuck Reed in San Jose, are sponsoring pension overhaul measures, Sanders via initiative and Reed via City Council action. Unions are trying to keep them off the ballot.

San Diego union leaders filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board, whose lawyer then asked a judge to block the Sanders-sponsored initiative, contending that it circumvented state law requiring negotiations on compensation changes.

It was a novel legal theory and a judge didn’t buy it, ruling that the proper time to challenge a ballot measure was after voters had acted, not before. And the unions left no doubt they’ll do that if the Sanders measure passes in June.

Meanwhile, unions representing San Jose’s city workers directly filed suit themselves, alleging that placing pension reform on the ballot also violates the state collective bargaining law that Brown signed three-plus decades ago.

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