Jon Ortiz

By Jon Ortiz
December 10, 2015

  • Proponents will poll language to gauge likelihood of success
  • Decision whether to proceed likely by mid-January
  • Unions vow to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at either proposal

California moved one step closer to a public retirement fight after the state issued official summaries for two pension-change ballot proposals on Thursday – and for the first time neither labor unions nor the measures’ proponents griped that the language was politically slanted or inaccurate.

“It’s not the most positive way to describe the initiative,” said Chuck Reed, the former San Jose mayor who is backing the proposal, “but a least it meets the legal requirement to be accurate.”

Union spokesman Steve Maviglio said his clients wouldn’t criticize the language, but predicted that if a measure reaches the November 2016 ballot, “We’ll throw the kitchen sink at it.”

One proposal would put state and local employees who first join a public pension system on Jan. 1, 2019, or later into 401(k)-style retirement savings plans that guarantee fixed contributions from employers instead of guaranteed retirement payments by government agencies.

The second plan would cap the amount of money government employers could pay for new hires’ retirement benefits to a certain percentage of their salary. For most new employees, employers could contribute no more than 11 percent of wages, or a maximum of 13 percent for police, firefighters and other public safety workers.

Voters could override the downgraded benefits or the cost caps at the ballot box.

Harris’ title and summary of the measures are key, since that’s the language that voters see during a signature collection campaign. Reed must gather 585,407 signatures from registered voters to put either measure on the ballot.

Reed and pension-change proponents before him have disagreed with the words that Harris, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate, has used to describe their measures. Prior titles and summaries have called out the impact of the proposals on “teachers, nurses, and peace officers,” whose jobs are held in high esteem by voters.

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