PHOENIX – A California pension reform ballot measure will not go before voters this year, with supporters saying they will wait for what they hope will be an easier path forward in 2018.
Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, and former San Diego city council member Carl DeMaio, a Republican, filed the ballot initiative in June that would require any changes to pension benefits for state and local government workers be pre-approved by voters, and were also backing a measure to limit government expenses on retirement benefits.
Reed said that although he was all for pressing forward this year, discussions with donors counted on to bankroll the roughly $25 million effort indicated that they wanted to wait until 2018.
"There's always an analysis that goes into this," said Reed, now special counsel at the law firm of Hopkins & Carley. "You have to listen to your donors."
Reed said that every year without reform costs California because unfunded liabilities continue to rise, but that reform backers expect that the election two years from now will be a better bet because there is no presidential election that year.
Presidential elections tend to bring out a larger turnout of more casual voters, Reed said, and rather than the more engaged voters who tend to turn out in midterm years. Reed also said he expects the economy to be worse in 2018 than it is now, further highlighting the need for reform.
Another factor is the lawsuit of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The suit seeks to eliminate fees charged to employees who are not members of the union that represents them, potentially curtailing the spending power of public employee unions. The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case this month, and Reed said that an environment in which unions had less money to spend would likely be much more favorable to pension reform measures.
But some opponents of the measure remain confident that Reed and DeMaio will meet with failure in the future.
"Chuck Reed and Carl DeMaio's extremist attempts to eliminate retirement security for millions of California's teachers, firefighters, school employees and other public servants failed because they were too extreme, would have cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and would have destabilized our state's two retirement systems, CalPERS and CalSTRS," said Dave Low, executive director at the California School Employees Association and chairman of Californians for Retirement Security. "We are skeptical that donors will have any confidence in these two failed politicians who have repeatedly bungled efforts to put their poorly-written efforts to gut retirement security for millions of Californians on the ballot. They can be assured that any scheme they cook up for 2018 will meet the same fate of their previous efforts because we will fight it with our full arsenal."