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New poll finds voters split over pension changes

Many California voters say the changes in the state pension system that Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law are enough, for now, to curb public employee retirement benefits, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

But those surveyed were divided on whether further action is needed.

Brown pushed a series of changes through the Legislature that raise the retirement age and cap pensions for new employees, among other adjustments. The changes drew criticism from labor unions, who said the plan went too far and harmed workers' retirement security, and conservative activists, who said more needed to be done to save the state money and stabilize the public pension systems.

When told of the plan, 31% of respondents said it struck an appropriate balance, while 30% said it did not go far enough. Twenty percent of those surveyed said the changes went too far in cutting public retirement benefits.

After hearing arguments from both sides, 45% of respondents called the new rules a good first step, while 39% said more needs to be done.

Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said curtailing pensions was necessary for Brown, who needs public support to pass his proposed tax increases, contained in Proposition 30, this fall. To that end, he said, Brown seems to have done enough, at least for the moment, to ease voters' minds about the government's responsibility with public money.

"There's not wild enthusiasm for this plan," Schnur said, "but it does appear that it passes the smell test with voters."

But he warned that the pension issue continues to be volatile and is not likely to go away. The governor "may not have solved this issue, but this poll shows that he's at least calmed the waters," Schnur said.

Brown has said he wants to do more to rein in growing costs associated with retiree payouts. Specifically, the governor said, he wants to alter the health benefits available to public workers after they stop working. His original plan for overhauling pensions would have curbed those benefits, but he decided to delay that push at the urging of Democratic lawmakers.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll surveyed 1,504 registered voters from Sept. 17-23. The research was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic firm, and the Republican company American Viewpoint. The survey has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

Look for more findings from the survey in the coming days.

ALSO:

California unions assail public pension changes

Union leader defends Villaraigosa in wake of pension vote

Gov. Jerry Brown signs cost-cutting measure for public pensions

-- Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown visits Los Angeles in August to speak on pension reform. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

 
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