Pension Reform Fireworks

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It's a time of legislative lull, with lawmakers not due back at the Capitol for business until January. 

But not for long, if Republican lawmakers have their way. 

They don't want to wait until 2012 to start the fireworks over pension reform.  In fact, they will be asking Gov. Jerry Brown to call a special session on the issue in the closing weeks of the year.

Nothing like a firefight over retirement benefits to help celebrate the holiday season.

Meantime, Brown's pension reform plan won praise Tuesday from a key non-partisan source--the  state Legislative Analyst's office.

The highly-respected LAO calls the governor's plan "a bold, excellent starting point."

Deputy Legislative Analyst Jason Sisney notes, in his report, that the governor's plan leaves many unanswered questions, such as how to address funding gaps in the state teachers' retirement fund. 

But Sisney says the plan is an important effort to address future costs as well as the public's distress with the cost of retirement benefits.

The LAO report does take issue with Brown on a significant point.  It says the idea of raising pension contributions for current workers is a legal minefield, since these issues were already agreed to at the bargaining table.

"It may not be worthwhile for the legislature to devote significant time..attempting to reduce current and past employees' retirement benefit costs," Sisney writes.

The state's labor unions certainly agree with that.  They've agreed to givebacks in recent years, but show no interest in moving from their current defined benefit plans to a 401K-style plan like that offered by private sector employers.

The Legislative Analyst is advising the governor to focus on changes only for new employees.  That will distress reform advocates who say it won't do enough to save money in the short term.

If all of this sounds like poor background for turkey, football, and Christmas shopping, you're right. Special session? It doesn't seem likely.

Let us know what you think. Comment below, send us your thoughts via Twitter @PropZero or add your comment to our Facebook page.

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