Photo via Pixabay
Photo via Pixabay

Backers of an initiative that would make major changes to public employee pension and retiree health care benefits may begin gathering signatures, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced.

What its authors, who include former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, have dubbed the “Voter Empowerment Act of 2016” would:

— extend the power of initiative and referendum over compensation and retirement benefits for government employees;

— prohibit enhancing pension benefits of any government employee in a defined benefit pension unless it is approved by voters;

— prohibit new government employees from enrolling in a defined benefit pension plan unless the voters approve;

— prohibit government employers from paying more than one-half the total cost, including unfunded liability costs of retirement benefits of new government employees unless voters of the jurisdiction approve.

The initiative defines a new employee as one hired on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Passage of the initiative would have significant effects — savings and costs — on the compensation of state and local government employees, according to an analysis prepared by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.

The magnitude and timing of those effects would depend heavily on decisions made by voters, government employees and the courts, according to the analysis Wednesday.

Backers of the initiative must submit petitions with valid signatures from 585,407 registered voters — 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election — by Feb. 8 to qualify for the November 2016 ballot, according to Padilla.

DeMaio told City News Service he joined Reed and others in writing the initiative because “California is heading for bankruptcy (and) we are seeing our services cut — after-school programs eliminated, fire stations ‘browned out,’ road repairs canceled — all because of the costs of these pensions keep going higher and higher.

“We need reform and the only way to see that happen is by letting the voters impose reform. If you leave it to politicians, it will never get done because the politicians have made backroom deals with government union bosses.”

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, the chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Public Employees, said the initiative would “wreak havoc on our state’s pension systems that provide retirement security for millions of Californians. It goes too far by attacking benefits that existing firefighters, teachers and school employees have been promised and undermining the financial stability of our pension funds.”

—City News Service

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