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Gov. Jerry Brown defends pension changes against critics

December 1, 2011 |  4:15 pm

Gov. Jerry Brown stepped up Thursday to defend his proposed overhaul of the state’s public pension systems against criticism from legal experts and unions,  telling lawmakers it would save money without running afoul of legal restrictions that protect retirement benefits for current employees.

Brown appeared before a legislative committee that includes lawmakers skeptical of portions of his plan. Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena), the committee’s co-chair, was among those who said the plan may be too far reaching, but the governor indicating that his proposal was not intended as an opening bargaining position to be scaled back.

“In my opinion, this is the minimum,’’ Brown told the lawmakers. “This is what makes sense, consistent with the law and even consistent  with what I think the Legislature can get to. Its not easy because there is some reduction.’’

The governor told the legislators that action is needed to put the pension systems on firmer financial ground, but also to show good faith to voters. Brown plans to ask voters in November to raise taxes.

“We’ve got to win the confidence of the people to achieve some of the other things we want to achieve,’’ Brown told the committee. “Without pension reform I don’t think we will have the credibility to ask the people to do other things that are very much needed.’’

Brown addressed the state Legislature’s Conference Committee on Pension Reform after other state officials raised questions about parts of the plan.

Brown was particularly bothered by a contention in a report by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System  that closing the existing defined benefit plan to new employees “would threaten its actuarial soundness.’’

“Well, that tells you you’ve got a Ponzi scheme, because you have to keep bringing in new members and the current system itself is not in a sustainable position,’’ Brown said. ``I don’t accept that, and we don’t want to close it off anyway.’’

--Patrick McGreevy, reporting from Sacramento

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