By Jon Ortiz
Published: Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
State and local workers would pay more for their pensions under two ballot initiative proposals made public Wednesday.
The effort by a group calling itself California Pension Reform comes less than a week after Gov. Jerry Brown offered his own 12-point plan to dial back pension costs. Brown hopes to secure passage for his plan in the Legislature.
One of the two plans filed with the attorney general’s office mirrors Brown’s call for pensions to blend a smaller guaranteed pension with other retirement income sources.
The other shifts all of the risk for retirement on employees by eliminating defined benefit plans for new hires and putting them into riskier 401(k)-style plans like those common in the private sector.
Pension Reform President Dan Pellissier said the group is now trying to raise the millions needed to gather signatures and eventually mount a campaign against well-funded public employee unions. It plans to put one of the proposals on the ballot in November 2012.
“We admire the governor’s tenacity, but we have little faith that the Legislature will adopt anything of substance,” Pellissier said. “And we fill in some of the gaps” in the governor’s proposal.
Once the attorney general labels the two plans and summarizes them with fiscal impact analyses from the state’s Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the pension reform group will conduct polling, select one proposal and launch a signature collection campaign.
Pellissier said the plan has united several leading pension reform advocates, including former California Republican Party Chairman Duf Sundheim and former GOP Assemblyman Roger Niello.
So far the group has spent about $250,000 on polling and legal help to write the proposals. The largest chunk of that money came from billionaire John D. Arnold, a former Enron Corp. trader who became wealthy buying and selling natural gas for the now-defunct energy firm.
With a vetted pension proposal in hand, Pellissier thinks it will be easier to line up donors for a signature campaign. Then the group would have to solicit more money for a statewide battle with labor that he figures would cost $10 million to $15 million.
“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Pellissier said, noting that former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz has agreed to raise money for the effort.
“It’s a plausible strategy,” said Daniel J.B. Mitchell, professor emeritus at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “There could be people in the state or out of the state who see this as a bigger argument over how government should be run.”
While Pellissier was touting the proposals Wednesday, public employee unions blasted them as another shot at government workers.
Dave Low, chairman of labor coalition Californians for Retirement Security, called the plans sloppy ideas that won’t hold up in court.
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