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Right On Blog: Brown Ducking Pensions is Smart Politics

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Members Of Nat'l Governors Association Speak To Press After White House Meeting With Obama

This week the California Legislature will consider over 650 bills in committee, the last opportunity for bills to be heard this year. Incredibly, Governor Brown’s modest pension reform package will not be one of them. In a letter released today, the committee responsible for acting on his plan now says it is referring it “to interim study” and will release a report “in the next several months.”

That’s right, the people you hired to solve the state’s problems believe there are more than 650 more important issues to deal with this week than pension reform.

As today’s San Francisco Chronicle editorial notes, “the ruling Democrats have shown tepid interest, at best” in addressing this crisis. This is a far-too generous assessment.

The same can be said about the Governor, who I’m sure will allow the Legislature to continue to ignore him on this issue. Since he introduced his plan six months ago, calling the current system a “Ponzi scheme,” he has largely been silent, leading to an AP story yesterday, headlined, “Action slow so far on Jerry Brown’s pension reforms.”

I don’t blame him. Even if he is sincere about fixing the problem, and though his actions suggest otherwise I believe he is, the public employee unions that control the Legislature will never allow legislators pass anything substantial. Why would he waste his limited political capital battling his friends on something that’s never going to happen anyway? He needs their help to pass his tax hike in November, which has been the top priority of his administration and something that has a much better chance of success.

Democrats continue to say they need to address pensions if they have any shot of convincing voters to send more of their money to Sacramento. Because of that, I suspect the unions will allow legislators to pass measures that end some egregious abuses, but they won’t let them do anything substantial. Whatever passes will be just enough to say they passed “pension reform,” but not so much that it actually does anything.

No one thinks the Legislature is ever going to take this seriously. The question is whether or not the Governor, who challenged the Legislature in his State of the State address to “do something real” on pensions, will go along with them.

If I were advising the Governor I’d tell him to ditch the pension plan and keep the unions happy. That’s the right political move. Without their help his tax hike is toast and suddenly we’re reading stories about Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris challenging him in 2014.

With their help he could be looking at six more years, with super-majorities in the Legislature and a weakened minority party he can continue to ignore. He couldn’t ask for a better political landscape to implement whatever he wants, except, of course, pension reform.

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