"People have come together in the Legislature to bite the bullet," said Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday in announcing a deal to revamp public employee pensions -- one panned quickly by both sides and unlikely to be seen as a satisfying end to the pension debate of 2012.
Brown made his remarks in Los Angeles, safely hundreds of miles from themaelstromthe proposal was stirring up at the state Capitol in Sacramento.
The governor and legislative Democrats took great pains to praise the proposal -- which only got its first real vetting at the Capitol Tuesday night -- as sweeping.
"It will take public employee benefits back to below where they were when I was governor last time," Brown told reporters in Los Angeles.
Unlike pension changes in years past, this one would apply both to state and local workers -- the vast majority of government workers in California. And while most of the changes would focus on future workers, current employees would also feel the impact.
The proposal hinges on three major changes: new pension salary caps, new cost sharing, and less retirement cash.
It caps the amount of a public worker's salary that can be used to calculate a pension -- about $110,000 for general workers and about $130,000 for public safety.
It pushes for an equal split of pension costs to be borne by government and by workers. And in a provision the unions are especially angry about, it would allow for a mandatory 50/50 cost sharing on workers who fail to agree to changes at the bargaining table after five years.
And finally, it means less cash for future retirees after longer careers. Local workers would, like many state workers before them, see controversial pension enhancements enacted in 1999 rescinded. Future workers in local government would have to stay on the job until 67 to get the same benefit a worker now can get by retiring at 55; the shift for local public safety would be from 50 to 57 for a similarly sized pension.
Union officials immediately described the proposal as punitive. "It goes well beyond anything needed to stabilize the pension system," said Terry Brennand of SEIU.
Republicans, as well as other proponents of major pension revisions for current workers, were disappointed for just the opposite reason.
"While this is a small step in the right direction, we are disappointed that this plan does not address those [current worker] liabilities in any meaningful way," said a statement from state Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel.
Like so many policy debates wrapped in dicey politics, this one will go down in the final days and hours of the legislative session. Unions identified at least three ways they could try to block the proposal, though committed publicly to none as the plan was unveiled: convince enough legislators to vote no, contest portions of the plan in court, or possibly qualify a statewide ballot referendum to overturn the pension changes in 2014.
Union officials have conceded for months that pension changes were inevitable, given the perception among Democrats that a stalled effort may be the final straw for voters when it comes to approving Gov. Brown's Proposition 30 tax increase in November. But they maintain that they were largely shut out of the process, and say that while the governor didn't get some of what he originally asked for -- a hybrid pension system, changes to the governing board of the pension funds -- he got more than was necessary.
"Necessary," however, can be a subjective term in politics. And the pension fight may leave everyone grumbling once it comes to an end by Friday night.