Pension tension, again

Aug 27, 2012

As California lawmakers wrap up the final week the legislative session, big-ticket issues remain on the table. The biggest of all, changing the public pension system, looks like it will go down to the wire.


From the Chronicle's Marisa Lagos: "Ten months after Gov. Jerry Brown proposed sweeping changes to public employee pensions, Democratic legislative leaders say they are finally poised to take action on the issue this week."


"They'll have to if any changes are to occur. The state Legislature ends its two-year session at midnight Friday, and bills that haven't been approved by then die.

Details of what kinds of changes legislators will consider, however, are still vague."


"The 12-point plan that Brown unveiled last year included proposals to increase the retirement age and create a hybrid system between defined and 401(k)-style benefits. It aimed to increase the amount state workers pay toward their benefits and curb the practice of "spiking" - in which an employee receives a raise shortly before retiring to boost his or her pension payout."


Gov. Brown is putting together a coalition of unlikely allies to push his tax initiative on the November ballot that includes key members of the business community -- a group that hasn't been particularly well disposed to him in the past.


From the LAT's Anthony York: "Some of the largest corporate interests in California have poured millions of dollars into an initiative campaign this year, as they have many times before. But this time, they're not asking voters to ease industry regulations or limit government power. Instead, they want approval of an $8-billion-a-year tax hike pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown.


"Labor unions and Democratic lawmakers spent almost $7 million qualifying Proposition 30 for the ballot. And Democratic interests contributed about 40% of the more than $10.3 million Brown has raised for the campaign ahead. But most of the governor's campaign fund — upward of $6 million — has so far come from a broad coalition of entrepreneurs, Indian tribes that own casinos and other business interests."


"In addition to the energy corporations, insurance companies and telecommunications companies, hospitals, movie studios and utilities have also opened their checkbooks. Many of these groups have an interest in bills pending in the Legislature that may go to the governor for his signature or veto."


The tax initiative isn't the only issue with strange bedfellows: An attempt to repeal a $150 annual fee for rural firefighting protection  is being linked to a bill to provide some $1 billion for middle-class college scholarships.


From the Press-Enterprise's Jim Miller: Assemblyman Brian Nestande, the only Assembly Republican to support the tax measure last week, introduced amendments Friday to repeal the fire fee. State Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Chino, is the author of the amended bill, according to the office of Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles."


"The legislation is the latest effort by Assembly Democrats to entice Republican votes in the state Senate for the business-tax measure, which narrowly passed the Assembly. The money would increase scholarship aid for middle-income families."


"Most Republicans have slammed the tax proposal as hurting the economy. Yet they also criticize the fire-prevention fee, which falls heaviest on GOP districts. The legislative session ends Friday, Aug. 31."


One measure on the November ballot is turning into a real food fight -- Proposition 37, which would require labeling of genetically engineered foods.


From the Mercury News' Dana Hull: "If Proposition 37 passes, California would become the first state in the nation to require new labels on a host of food products commonly found on grocery store shelves, from breakfast cereals to sodas to tofu."


"Proponents, largely big natural food companies and consumers who are passionate about organic food, have raised $2.8 million as of Thursday, according to campaign finance records filed with the California Secretary of State's Office. Scores of individuals have made $100 donations, but most of the money is coming from organic businesses such as Nature's Path Foods and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. A company owned by Joseph Mercola, a controversial holistic health activist from Illinois with more than 100,000 Twitter followers, has kicked in $800,000."


"Opponents have raised nine times as much. Almost all of the nearly $25 million has come from a variety of chemical, seed and processed-food companies, including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Nestle, PepsiCo and DuPont Pioneer. St. Louis-based Monsanto, a leading producer of genetically engineered seeds, donated $4.2  million, the largest donation."


As a tropical storm bears down, California's GOP delegation at the Republican National Convention in Tampa are hoping for a boost as they prepare to nominate a candidate with at lest some ties -- however tenuous -- to California.


From the Chronicle's Carla Marinucci: "I'm thinking Western White House - seriously," former state GOP Chairman Shawn Steele said in a reference to Romney's $10 million oceanfront home in La Jolla, near San Diego, where Romney also has relatives. "You will see him a lot in California."


"That's music to the ears of the 750-member California delegation to the Republican National Convention, who have watched as their party lost registered voters in California, where the GOP holds not a single statewide office. State Republicans here express hope that their party's fortunes will shift with Romney."


"Their diverse contingent includes Sally Zelikovsky, a San Rafael housewife-turned-Tea Party activist; George Agyros, a prominent billionaire real estate investor; a score of high-profile elected officials; and Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard."


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