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Assemblyman Curt Hagman

Public Employee Unions Thwart End to Pensions for Politicians

Everyone knows that trying to pass any kind of meaningful public employee pension reform in the Democrat-dominated legislature would be an extremely difficult proposition.  But surely Democrats would be eager to work across party lines and end the practice of politicians taking home generous pensions, right?  Wrong.

In a display of how influential public employee unions truly are in Sacramento, their representatives came in droves to the Assembly Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security committee to oppose the common sense. Opposition included even those groups not affected by the bill.

Just to give a sense of the opposition; CalSTRS, SEIU, Professional Engineers in California Government, California State Sheriffs’ Association, California District Attorneys Association, California School Boards Association, Small School Districts’ Association, California Fraternal Order of Police, Professional Peace Officers Association and Judicial Council of California who are constitutionally exempt from my legislation.

So far the only possible compromise offered from the various organizations has been, “We’ll remove our opposition if you exempt us.”  The committee gave me the option of continuing to work with the opposition and I accepted in the hopes we could craft a solution to a problem. I’m not terribly optimistic they will come to the table but I feel this issue is too important and the fight needs to continue.

I introduced this important political reform legislation to prohibit officials elected to any office of any kind in California, from receiving any government retirement benefits.  This would have included elected officials and pension systems at the city, county and state levels.

This legislation would have saved taxpayer money and prevented politicians from negotiating pensions from which they would personally benefit.  This is perhaps the worst conflict-of-interest of all – politicians voting themselves lavish pensions.  After all, how can any politician seriously fight for pension reform when they themselves enjoy a generous pension of their own?

Yet from the beginning when I spoke to my Democrat colleagues they refused to support this common-sense reform.  They said they understood the spirit of my bill and were willing to work with me to address the concerns of opponents – namely the public employee unions.  During the hearing, the opponents of my bill actually said – without any hint of irony – that my bill would discourage qualified candidates to run for office.  This is just laughable.

They must have forgotten the fact that state legislators do not receive a pension of any kind and this has not deterred quality candidates from running for office.  My bill would have simply closed the loopholes that allowed other elected officials to receive a pension.

Rather than killing my bill outright, the Democrats opted to delay consideration of AB 738 for at least another year.  That is the least they can do, given that explaining away a vote to protect pensions for politicians is not exactly popular with working Californians.  Still, it will do nothing to prevent a likely ballot initiative to ban pensions for politicians, which Ventura County Supervisor and a leader in the fight to reform California,  Peter Foy has promised may happen — and soon.

Nevertheless, I am committed to passing AB 738 next year with the hope that more public outrage will encourage Democrats to join me in doing the right thing.

Californians have expressed strong support for overhauling the state’s flawed pension system for its workers.  According to a recent USC/Los Angeles Times poll, 70 percent of California voters surveyed support capping the pensions of public employees.  Even 66 percent of self-identified liberals agreed.

There is simply no excuse for government to continue to fund pensions for politicians.   Every dime we spend rewarding politicians with pensions is money that we don’t have to spend on vital services relied upon by California families.

Public service should be about doing what’s right for the hard-working citizens we are each privileged to represent.  It should not be about personal financial gain.  While modifying pensions for rank-and-file employees is one thing, ending generous pensions for politicians should not be a partisan issue.  Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that public pension giveaways are simply unsustainable.