California should be able to reduce public employees’ pension benefits, Jerry Brown argues

By Adam Ashton | Gov. Jerry Brown got most of what he wanted when he carried a proposal to shore up the state’s underfunded public employee pension plans by trimming benefits for new workers.

Five years later, he’s in court making an expansive case that government agencies should be able to adjust pension benefits for current workers, too.

A new brief his office filed in a union-backed challenge to Brown’s 2012 pension reform law argues that faith in government hinges in part on responsible management of retirement plans for public workers.

“At stake was the public’s trust in the government’s prudent use of limited taxpayer funds,” the brief reads, referring to the period when he advocated for pension changes during the recession.

While the brief targets a specific provision of the pension overhaul he championed, its arguments suggest he favors broader pension changes that affect current employees.

“It was as good as anything the lawyers we use could have written,” said Dan Pellissier, president of an advocacy group that that wants to reduce California pension obligations for public employees and retirees.

The filing embraces a cluster of recent court decisions that hold public employees are entitled to reasonable pensions, but not necessarily ones that are calculated on the most favorable formulas for them.

And the filing paints unions as unreasonable in insisting that any reduction in pension benefits must be offset by additional compensation. That’s the so-called “California rule,” the legal precedent that has barred state and local governments from modifying pension benefits for existing workers they’ve offered over the past 60 years.

To read the entire column in the Sacramento Bee, please click here.

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