Voters don't blame workers for pension woes, new poll finds
California voters do not blame public employees for the state's pension woes and are in no hurry to make steep cuts in the system, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.
A majority agreed with the statement that public workers "didn't create the problem with the pension system" and that any solution must include adequate retirement benefits. When public workers were identified as "teachers, police and firefighters," that statement had 51% support. Even when no occupation was given, nearly half -- 47% -- of respondents agreed.
Far fewer agreed with the statement that "we can't continue to ignore this issue when our debts keep piling up" and that cuts must be made immediately. Only 38% agreed with that statement. When workers' occupations were not identified, 40% agreed.
California has one of the most troubled pension systems in the nation. This year it is spending $3 billion to help pay retirees' pensions, and its largest public pension fund recently cut its forecasted investment returns, which will increase the burden on taxpayers. A recent study by the National Assn. of State Retirement Administrators found that pension costs eat up a larger share of California's budget than of any other state except Alaska.
But the greatest effect is at the local level, where some cities have had to spend a majority of their payroll budget on retirees. A potential ballot measure to curtail pension benefits in California was dropped last month because its backers claimed that its state-mandated language, which cited firefighters and police officers, was biased. Some cities, like San Jose, are pushing ahead with their own local ballot initiatives to cut pensions.
Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed his own 12-point pension plan, which includes raising the retirement age to 67 for new workers and enrolling them in a partial 401(k) program. But the Democrats who control the state Legislature have been cool to the proposal.
The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times polled 1,500 registered California voters from March 14 through 19. The survey was conducted by the Democratic firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in conjunction with the Republican firm American Viewpoint. It has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.
Look for more findings in coming days at www.latimes.com.
-- Nicholas Riccardi
Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown goes over points of his pension proposal in Sacramento last year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press