Pension Reform Coming?

Latest news out of Sacramento is that Democratic leaders Senate Pro Tem Darryl Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez have agreed to take up pension reform by June in advance of approving the budget. The Governor’s office and Republican leaders have been actively pushing legislative approval of the 12 point plan.

Unfortunately, the scuttlebutt is that the Democratic leaders have trouble with the first four points of that plan.  And if those first four points aren’t part of the pension reform bill when it is adopted, it will likely kill the support of the business leaders.  Here are the first 4 points of the Governor’s Plan:


  1. Equal Sharing of Pension Costs: All Employees and Employers
    While many public employees make some contribution to their retirement – state employees contribute at least 8 percent of their salaries – some make none. Their employers pay the full amount of the annual cost of their pension benefits. The funding of annual normal pension costs should be shared equally by employees and employers.  My plan will require that all new and current employees transition to a contribution level of at least 50 percent of the annual cost of their pension benefits. Given the different levels of employee contributions, the move to a contribution level of at least 50 percent will be phased in at a pace that takes into account current contribution levels, current contracts and the collective bargaining process.  Regardless of pacing, this change delivers real near-term savings to public employers, who will see their share of annual employee pension costs decline.
  2. “Hybrid” Risk-Sharing Pension Plan: New Employees
    Most public employers provide employees with a defined benefit pension plan. The employer (and ultimately the taxpayer) guarantees annual pension benefits and bears all of the risk of investment losses under those plans. Most private sector employers, and some public employers, offer only 401(k)-type defined contribution plans that place the entire risk of loss on investments on employees and deliver no guaranteed benefit.
    I believe that all public employees should have a pension plan that strikes a fair balance between a guaranteed benefit and a benefit subject to investment risk. The “hybrid” plan I am proposing will include a reduced defined benefit component and a defined contribution component that will be managed professionally to reduce the risk of employee investment loss. The hybrid plan will combine those two components with Social Security and envisions payment of an annual retirement benefit that replaces 75 percent of an employee’s salary. That 75 percent target will be based on a full career of 30 years for safety employees, and 35 years for non-safety employees. The defined benefit component, the defined contribution component, and Social Security should make up roughly equal portions of the targeted retirement income level. For employees who don’t participate in Social Security, the goal will be that the defined benefit component will make up two-thirds, and the defined contribution component will make up the remaining one-third, of the targeted retirement benefit.
    The State Department of Finance will study and design hybrid plans for safety and non-safety employees, and will fashion a cap on the defined benefit portion of the plans to ensure that employers do not bear an unreasonable liability for high-income earners.
  3. Increase Retirement Ages: New Employees
    Over time, enriched retirement formulas have allowed employees to retire at ever-earlier ages. Many non-safety employees may now retire at age 55, and many safety employees may retire at age 50, with full retirement benefits. As a consequence, employers have been required to pay for benefits over longer and longer periods of time.  We have to align retirement ages with actual working years and life expectancy. Under my plan, all new public employees will work to a later age to qualify for full retirement benefits. For most new employees, retirement ages will be set at the Social Security retirement age, which is now 67. The retirement age for new safety employees will be less than 67, but commensurate with the ability of those employees to perform their jobs in a way that protects public safety.
  4. Require Three-Year Final Compensation to Stop Spiking: New Employees
    Pension benefits for some public employees are still calculated based on a single year of “final compensation.” That one-year rule encourages games and gimmicks in the last year of employment that artificially increase the compensation used to determine pension benefits. My plan will require that final compensation be defined, as it is now for new state employees, as the highest average annual compensation over a three-year period.
    The proposals are divided into two groups. The constitutional amendment Brown offered broadly outlines the pension changes more narrowly defined in the language to change state law. The governor’s plan won’t go forward without two-thirds of the Legislature voting to put the constitutional changes on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would then need voter approval from a majority.

The changes would kick in Jan. 1, 2013. Labor agreements that contradict the governor’s plan would prevail until the pacts expire.  The statutory language includes these proposals:

  • Ends additional retirement service credit purchases, or “airtime.”
  • Forfeits all or part of pensions for elected officials or civil servants convicted of a felony associated with their offices or jobs.
  • Ends retroactive pension enhancements.
  • Ends “pension holidays” for employers and employees.
  • Mandates that all employees pay “at least one-half” the normal costs for defined benefit plans or the defined portion of a hybrid plan. Employers may not pick up the employee share.
  • Limits the hours and wages for retirees who return to government work.
  • Calculates benefits based on a 36-month average of an employees’ wages.
  • Narrows the definition of wages that can be included for pension calculation purposes.
  • Establishes a hybrid pension system for new hires. It would replace 75 percent of an employee’s income after 30 years of service and a “normal” retirement age of 57 for public safety employees or, for all other workers, 35 years of service at age 67.
  • Sets 5 years and 52 years old as the minimum length of service and age that safety classes can qualify for retirement, 57 years old for all other groups.
  • Eliminates seats on the CalPERS Board of Administration now occupied by a member of State Personnel Board and an insurance industry representative
  • Gives CalPERS board membership to the Department of Finance director.
  • Adds an independent health insurance expert and a representative from a contracting agency to the CalPERS board, both appointed by the governor.
  • Adds three public representatives to CalPERS’ board, two appointed by the governor and one jointly appointed by the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee.
  • Sets 25 years of service as the threshold to receive 100 percent of the state’s retiree health benefit. Applies to new hires only.

Read more here:

The Governor’s 12 point plan has been endorsed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.  While the Plan is great progress, it isn’t all that needs to be done to make the public pension system sustainable.  The recent change in the rate of predicted return from 7.75% to 7.5 demonstrates how vulnerable the state, counties and cities are to being able to make the payments for a pension system that is consuming more revenue than ever possible to provide.
In other news, the independent effort to put an initiative on pension reform has been suspended.  The following is a statement from Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform: “California Pension Reform is suspending its effort to qualify an initiative for the 2012 ballot after determining that the Attorney General’s false and misleading title and summary makes it nearly impossible to pass. We will continue to push our elected representatives to reform our broken pension system and if they fail, we will focus on qualifying an initiative for 2014. California taxpayers face more than $240 billion in pension debts that grow every year, a brutal math problem that requires courageous leadership instead of the special interest politics that is blocking meaningful reform today.”

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *