California State Assemblywoman Connie Conway | District 26
2/24/2012 | Opinion Editorial

Governor's pension reform a good plan

Published in the Visalia Times-Delta:

In my view, one of the most important things the Legislature can do this year to get our chronic budget problems under control and protect core budget priorities is enacting pension reform.

There has been a lot of talk about pension reform in Sacramento in recent months, but little action.

Every day we fail to act, the damage to our state budget grows worse.

In 2010, the bipartisan, independent Little Hoover Commission found that California's top 10 public employee pension plans, both at the state and local levels, faced a roughly $240 billion deficit.

A recent study by Stanford University students put the deficit at $500 billion.

This is more than five times the state General Fund - and taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

What does this mean for families in the Central Valley and across our state?

Every dollar we are forced to spend backfilling pensions for government workers is money we don't have for our neighborhood schools, local law enforcement and important infrastructure needs.

But the only way to reform our broken pension system is by Democrats and Republicans working together to enact a bipartisan compromise.

This week, my Republican colleagues and I moved to do just that by introducing Gov. Jerry Brown's pension reform plan before the Legislature.

While you may be surprised to hear a Republican supporting the plan put forward by our Democrat governor, I believe the governor's plan represents a golden opportunity to enact bipartisan pension reform.

His plan actually includes many ideas Republicans have championed for years.

To restore honesty to the system, it eliminates loopholes that let government workers game the system.

The governor's plan will stop workers from artificially boosting their retirements by buying "airtime" for time they did not actually work.

It will also stop government workers from "spiking" their pension just before retiring.

Benefits would instead be calculated on the employee's highest three years of salary, rather than the highest year.

To help both state and local governments address ongoing budget deficits, the governor's plan will start getting unsustainable public employee pensions under control.

It will require newly hired government workers to pay more out of pocket.

New hires will receive more fair retirement and health care benefits.

While the Governor's plan represents a critical first step toward fixing our broken pension system, Republicans have also proposed additional, stronger reforms to bring public employee pensions in line with those in the private sector.

In these tough economic times, private sector workers have been forced to pay more out of pocket for retirement benefits, while some have seen their benefits trimmed.

Government workers should have to make similar sacrifices as well.

Passing this bipartisan pension reform plan will help bring public employee pensions more in line with private sector retirement plans, and help protect taxpayers from billions in new spending that we cannot afford.

Taken as a whole, the governor's plan and Republican reforms are about fairness - fairness to California's taxpayers and our hard-working public employees.

It is our hope that Legislative Democrats will join with Republicans to enact the governor's pension reform plan without delay.

We also hope that the people will also get a chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Requiring a public vote is the only way to prevent future Legislatures from undoing these necessary reforms and granting unsustainable giveaways to public employees.

Working together across party lines, I am confident that we can enact truly bipartisan pension reforms that protect workers and taxpayers alike.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, represents the 34th Assembly District in the California Legislature.