Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday announced several reforms to California's underfunded public pension system, including raising the minimum retirement age and ending abuses like a practice known as “spiking” in which employees are given big raises during their last year of employment as a way to inflate their pensions. The changes to pension benefits also include capping pensions at $110,000 a year for new employees. Patrick Healy reports from Downtown LA for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Aug, 28, 2012.
These days it's hard to tell Democratic Governor Jerry Brown from the Energizer Bunny.
He and his Democratic majority in the legislature have announced a breakthrough on state employee pension reform. It's the latest of many efforts--some substantive, others symbolic--to show the public that the Democrats are serious about reducing the financial footprint of state spending.
Brown's legislative magic tricks in the past few months have included a sizable reduction in the state's welfare program and reduced salaries for state employees.
But of all the spending cutbacks, pension reform was the most difficult. Organized labor was out in force on this issue, attempting to preserve gains from recent years and hoping for cooperation from their Democratic allies.
But this time on this issue, the Democrats in the legislature agreed that reform on their terms would be much more desirable than a nasty ballot initiative in 2014, a low turnout year where the deck could be irreparably stacked against them.
But the biggest benefit from pension reform for Brown is the hope that this--along with his other efforts--will yield a huge payoff from the voters passing Proposition 30, Brown's proposal to temporarily raise state income and sales taxes to close the state's $8 billion budget gap.
State spending reductions set the table for Brown's claim that he and the legislature have done everything humanly possible to cut state spending to the bone.
In short, he's trying to rebuild credibility, an attribute that has long been missing from Sacramento. Even Republicans will be hard-pressed to argue against that claim.
The governor may or may not be able to convince the voters he's right about the state's plight.
Over the last few months, polls have shown Proposition 30 carrying with about 54 percent of the vote.
That may sound good but most learned observers agree that a proposition asking the voters to increase their taxes usually requires close to 60 percent approval going into the election.
That's why Brown must continue to show voters that he's the prince of penury between now and November 6th. And judging from his recent successes, he just may do it.
Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.