By Daniel Borenstein
Staff columnist
Posted: 04/23/2011 04:00:00 PM PDT

THAT CLANGING sound you hear is Jerry Brown kicking the can further down the road.

The governor touted his budget plan as an honest forecast of revenues and expenditures. Indeed, his accounting avoids the smoke and mirrors of his predecessor, who was willing to budget imaginary income, pushing off the day of reckoning.

But Brown suffers from a milder case of the same denial disease, as shown by the six contracts his administration has negotiated this year with labor unions. The governor promised in his budget to extract 10 percent savings in employee compensation for next fiscal year. Instead, during the negotiations, he got 3.6 percent, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The difference means that the $26.6 billion budget gap he’s trying to close just grew by about $250 million.

Not only did he fail to achieve promised savings for next year, he pushed other costs into the future. Most significantly, while he requires workers to contribute more to their pensions, he does nothing to address the billions of dollars of mounting debt from the unsustainable retirement system. The core benefit structure remains unchanged.

Consider the deal for the largest of the six groups, the 20,000-member California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Most are prison guards.

The group spent millions to help elect Brown. He, in turn, appointed Ron Yank, the guard’s labor attorney for 25 years, to head the state Department of Personnel Administration, to sit on the other side of the bargaining table and represent the taxpayers.

A decade ago, the guards obtained from former Gov. Gray Davis perhaps the sweetest contract in state government — for a job that requires only a high school education. As the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported in 2008, while most state employees received raises of 9 percent between fiscal years 2003 and 2006, prison guards received 34 percent.

Salaries range from $45,000 a year to $74,000, plus pay differentials for nights and weekends, uniform allowances, fitness pay and an average $16,000 in overtime. For retirement, guards can leave at age 50 with a starting pension of 3 percent of top salary for each year worked, or 90 percent of top salary for a 30-year veteran. Also, taxpayers contribute 2 percent of a guard’s salary to a retirement savings account.

Little wonder, as of three years ago, the state annually received 130,000 applications for the job. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to cave to the guards’ demands for more, so they’ve been working without a contract for nearly five years.

Until now. The three-year deal Yank negotiated, still subject to approval by the Legislature, would leave base salaries unchanged. For the first year, the guards would have 12 days of unpaid leave, reducing their pay by 4.6 percent. But, on the last day of the contract, top salaries would increase up to 4 percent, boosting pensions by a similar percentage.

On retirement, the state would no longer contribute 2 percent of a guard’s salary to the retirement savings account. And the guards’ contributions to their pensions would increase from 8 percent to 11 percent of salary. For comparison, the state’s contribution is 29 percent, and likely to increase.

On health care, the guards would be insulated from most cost increases. The state would pay 80 percent of their premiums and 80 percent of the cost for their dependents. Meanwhile, to receive the $780-$1,560 annual fitness pay a guard would only need an annual doctor’s exam; physical condition would no longer be considered.

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