One Politician Takes the Blame for Pension Bill

California State Capitol [genericsla]
Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Who was to blame for the passage of SB 400, the 1999 legislation that led to an explosion in pension obligations in California? 

At the conservative site Flash Report, then State Sen. Ray Haynes steps up to take the blame. It was his job to warn colleagues of what was in the bill. But this one got past him.

Haynes writes:

To understand what happened, I need to explain the Senate process.  At that time, as the Republican whip, I was in charge of the Senate Republican analysis and floor operation (it has since changed).  It was my job to flag potentially bad bills for my Senate Republican colleagues (and the Democrats if they wanted to listen), inform them of the problems, and let them make their decision about how to vote.  If I saw no problem, I would allow the bill to pass through on a “unanimous roll call.”  I would make the call about whether to allow a bill through with a unanimous Republican vote.  If I didn’t flag it, my Republican colleagues would think there was no problem with the bill, and because I maintained a pretty tight screen, they trusted my judgment on that matter.

As it left the Senate, SB 400 was an innocuous bill that slightly increased the benefit to the widows and orphans of deceased state and school workers.  It was a nothing bill that passed on consent.  It was amended in the Assembly on September 10, 1999 to add a substantial increase in the benefits to the CHP (a 3% at 50 benefit) and to state workers (a 2.5% at age 55 benefit), exploding the state’s liability to CalPERS.  It passed over to the Senate that same day.  When it came back, somehow I missed the change.  Looking back now 11 years ago, I don’t know how, but I did not flag that bill for my Republican colleagues.  I allowed it to pass on a unanimous roll call.  That was a huge mistake.

That's unusually honest as a confession, by standards, though there is a caveat. Haynes still blames the majority Republicans for the bill's passage -- he's saying he merely failed to warn Republicans.

The story also is a reminder that politicians are often no better than the public. We voters know nothing about how the state works. And our representatives don't know much more because they don't read the bills

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