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Riordan moves to qualify pension reform measure for L.A. ballot

Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan

Saying that major pension reforms are needed to keep Los Angeles out of municipal bankruptcy, former Mayor Richard Riordan on Monday took the initial steps to place a measure that would cut retirement benefits on next year's ballot.

Riordan aides filed a request for a so-called title and summary, the first requirement to get his proposal on the May 2013 ballot.

The ballot initiative would move newly hired workers into 401(k)-style plans, ending pension guarantees for future city workers. The plan would also cap retirement benefits for current employees when the pension trust is underfunded and require workers to contribute more toward their retirement income.

A 20-page description of the measure, which Riordan is calling the Bankruptcy Avoidance and Pension Protection Plan of 2013, says that the city must take dramatic steps to reduce pension costs. Pension obligations are growing so rapidly that the city may not be able to provide services beyond police and fire protection, the filing says.

City pensions are underfunded by $9.9 billion and recent efforts of the mayor and City Council to close the gap have been insufficient, Riordan argues.

A Riordan spokesman, Jonathan Wilcox, said the reforms approved by elected officials affect only "about 1% of the problem. It leaves unaddressed 99% of what is about to plunge the city into bankruptcy."

City employee unions attacked Riordan's proposal, calling it a plan to "destroy public retirement benefits."

“One of the richest men in the city has just declared war on working people,'' said city warehouse worker Henry Orona. "Richard Riordan’s plan to destroy retirement for city employees is bad for this city and makes no financial sense."

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hasn't taken a position on Riordan's plan. But in a statement last week he said  the city's retirement plan must be "sustainable."

As a result of Monday's filing, the city attorney will prepare a legal description of Riordan's proposal, which will allow backers to begin gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Riordan and his allies need to collect 255,000 valid signatures to qualify for a public vote, according to the city clerk's office.

The former mayor spent the day in a whirlwind of TV and radio interviews touting the plan. On KFI's "John and Ken Show," he said people are "fed up with waiting for their government to take action.”

Support for landmark pension reforms in San Diego and San Jose this year show there is an appetite for change, Riordan said.

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-- Catherine Saillant at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan reacts to a speech by former Los Angeles Mayoral candidate Austin Beutner in January. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

 
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