Brown's Pension Guessing Game

There's a tremendous guessing game surrounding Jerry Brown's plans to scale back the state's pension system.

Brown said this week, at an event in Beverly Hills, that it would involve a public vote next year, but that he wasn't ready to offer details.

But there are plenty of clues as to what he has in mind, if you look back at last year's governor's race.

Brown told me, during a sitdown interview at a Sacramento restaurant last fall, that he was prepared to make labor unions unhappy.  He indicated that it was time to more closely match stock market performance with the benefits being paid out.

Then there were Brown's remarks made in response to questions from my colleague Amy Chance at the Sacramento Bee, during a debate at U.C. Davis in September of last year.

"We're going to have to raise ages, we're going to have to raise contributions, we're going to have to stop this thing where they take the last one year and spike it up and use that as a measurement for a lifelong pension," Brown said.  "When I was governor (the first time) we used the last three years and you averaged them."

Brown joked then that, "I'm the best pension buy California's ever seen," referring to his long years of collecting a public paycheck.

He then referred to his desire to create a two-tier pension system.  One of the Capitol's top Democrats, Darrell Steinberg, has said he's open to voluntary participation in a 401K-style plan. 

So the details have yet to emerge, even as the legislature named members this week to a special joint committee that's supposed to look at reforms meant to bring fiscal stability to a system that critics point out can't be sustained.

That committee has its first meeting, in Southern California, in the city of  Carson, on October 26.

In the meantime, Brown's pension plan is still being cooked.  It's clear he wants to move to a system for new workers that will more closely match private industry. And reformers are watching closely to see if that plan will match last year's campaign promises.

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