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L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls for rollback in pension benefits and increase in retirement age for civilian workers

March 2, 2011 | 11:03 am

Looking to shave retirement costs in the middle of a budget crisis, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Wednesday for a rollback in pension benefits and an increase in the retirement age for civilian city workers.

Villaraigosa plans to appear with business leaders at noon to announce his proposal, which would apply to civilian employees such as librarians, park recreation workers and 911 operators.

Civilian city workers currently receive pensions equal to 100% of salaries if they work at City Hall for 46.3 years. Villaraigosa called for that amount to be reduced to 75% -- but only for newly hired employees, according to the mayor's spokeswoman.

The mayor also wants newly hired civilian employees to retire at 65. Under the current system, such employees who work for the city for 30 years can retire at 55.

Retirement costs are expected to consume roughly one-third of the city budget by 2015, squeezing funds for other expenses such as public safety and parks. The Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which represents roughly 20,000 civilian city workers, would not comment on Villaraigosa’s plan until its leaders had read it.

But City Councilman Paul Koretz, a close ally of public employee unions, worried that some of the mayor’s proposals might be “too dramatic.” Koretz said the proposal would do little to cut retirement costs in the short term, since much of it would apply to new hires rather than existing workers.

“It’s not going to solve the problem the city is currently facing,” he said. “It will help the generation after the next generation.”

Villaraigosa and the City Council already have a measure on the March 8 ballot that would trim retirement benefits for newly hired police officers and firefighters. So far, they have not campaigned for that proposal and did not bother to put an argument on the ballot in favor of it.

That measure, known as Charter Amendment G, would continue to allow police officers and firefighters to retire as early as age 50 and receive 90% of their salaries if they work 33 years. It would also allow retired public safety employees to receive their pensions while working in civilian city jobs.

Two of the measure’s major proponents are Councilmen Bernard Parks and Dennis Zine, both of whom earn six-figure council salaries while receiving the 90% maximum yearly pension.

The mayor has called on his appointees at the Police and Fire Pension Board to reject a proposal for a 7% increase in the health benefits for retired police and firefighters this year -– a move that would cost $4.8 million next year. “To increase benefits for retirees at the same time that we are laying off and furloughing current employees is simply irresponsible,” he said.

Retired police and firefighters already receive $1,025 in monthly health benefits, he said. Villaraigosa said he would work with the City Council to freeze that subsidy permanently.


Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall