By Dan Walters
Published: Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
This is not the first time that state Sen. Kevin de León has proposed a state-sponsored pension system for the more than 6 million California workers whose employers don’t offer retirement benefits.
But the Los Angeles Democrat’s latest effort, Senate Bill 1234, is only a couple of votes away from reaching Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, and it’s touched off a titanic lobbying war.
De León has until Aug. 31 to get his bill into Brown’s hands – where its fate would be uncertain.
“Expanding access to a workplace plan will alleviate the growing strain on our already overburdened safety net programs for California’s rapidly aging population,” de León wrote in a published opinion piece.
That’s the public rationale. But there appears to be another motive for the full-court press this year.
California is the key battleground in a nationwide, union-sponsored movement for such pension programs aimed, in part, at reducing what some call “pension envy” and thus demands for public employee pension reform.
“It’s supported in part by public-sector unions because I think they see this as a way of assuaging some of the sense of deprivation that private-sector workers have related to public-sector pension plans,” Ron Snell, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Governing magazine.
That motive has surfaced repeatedly, albeit privately, in discussions about SB 1234 among lobbyists, legislators and staffers. Brown is demanding that the Legislature enact some fairly hefty reforms in public pensions this month to help persuade voters to approve new taxes in November, but public employee unions and their Democratic allies, such as de León, have resisted more than token changes.
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