Public employee unions presented a united front on Monday against a bill by Sen. John Moorlach that aimed to close California’s pension funding gap by eliminating cost-of-living increases and asking local governments to chip in a greater share of their revenue toward retirements.
Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, shaped his Senate Bill 32 using the language of climate change laws the Legislature adopted to set goals for the reduction of greenhouse gasses. Last year’s SB 32, for instance, sought to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels between now and 2030.
Moorlach’s pension bill similarly would demand that CalPERS and CalSTRS reduce their unfunded liability to 1980 levels by 2030. Today, both pension systems have about 64 percent of the assets they’d need to pay all of the benefits they owe.
“The unfunded liabilities are killing us. The math is brutal,” said Dan Pellissier, president of an advocacy group called California Pension Reform.
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Moorlach’s bill would have temporarily banned cost-of-living increases that pensioners receive, required local governments to increase their pension contribution rates by 10 percent and compelled public employers to offer 401(k) style defined contribution plans to supplement pensions.
The bill failed by a 3-2 vote in the Senate’s Public Employment and Retirement Committee after a parade of union representatives voiced opposition to it.
“This is really an attack on women,” said Jennifer Baker, a lobbyist for the California Teachers Association. She noted that some 72 percent of the state’s retired teachers are women.
She continued, “This is not going to incentivize more people to want to become teachers.”
Baker’s argument resonated with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, whose mother receives a pension worth about $22,000 a year.
“I really worry that we are always trying to balance the pension funding problem on the backs of the lowest paid worker,” Leyva said.
“We just have to be very thoughtful and I’m afraid that for me this doesn’t get me where I need to be,” she said.