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Pension measure summary puts 'public safety' first

January 20, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Once again, the state attorney general’s office has presented a political hurdle to efforts to roll back public employee pensions.

In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger planned to ask voters to scale back state pensions. That effort was thwarted when then-Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer’s summary of the measure highlighted the impact the rollback would have on survivor benefits for the families of fallen police officers.

Proponents of the pension rollback have returned with another proposal this year, and are still looking for a big-money backer to put the measure on the  2010 ballot. But the title and summary of the measure issued Friday by Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown isn’t likely to help.

Brown begins the summary, which would appear on the ballot and in voter pamphlets should the measure qualify, by highlighting that future pensions would be curbed for “peace officers, firefighters, public safety, and other public employees.”

That preamble, said GOP political consultant Rob Stutzman, hurts the measure’s chances because “there’s a hierarchy of sympathy when it comes to public employees.” “Firefighters and police officers,” Stutzman said, are at the top of that hierarchy, and “DMV workers,” whom Brown lumps into the “other” category, are not.

By putting public safety officials front and center, “the attorney general is playing subtle politics,” Stutzman said.

For her part, initiative proponent Marcia Fritz said she was happy with Brown’s summary. She argued that law enforcement officers, with earlier retirement ages, are a big part of the public employee pension problem in California. “I didn’t see any bias,” she said. “I thought it was very transparent.”

Fritz and other initiative backers must collect 694,354 signatures of registered California voters by June 14 to qualify for the ballot.

Among the measure’s provisions, according to its official summary: It would raise the retirement age, reduce benefits, restrict early retirement and hike the number of years an employee must work to qualify for health benefits. Pension costs would be curbed by as much as 50% over the long haul.

-- Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento