Why Waiting Isn't a Bad Play on Pensions

So, three days from the end of the legislative session, Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown unveil a package of changes they call pension reform.

This is, at surface level, the fulfillment of a promise. Of course, it's not completely unveiled yet. There are no financial projections of any value so far. Confusion dominates the coverage, as the labor left blasts the changes as draconian and the conservative pension critics say it's not nearly enough.

And they do this mid-week, with only 72 hours to review the whole thing -- those 72 hours taking place right before the Labor Day weekend, when most Californians, and many of their local officials, are off doing other things.

So here's a little free advice -- that won't even add to long-term obligations:


At least a couple weeks. Give the public and the press and the players some time to chew this over. Put out the details. And then call the legislature back into session to flesh this out.

Yes, some lawmakers will complain that they should be out campaigning for themselves. Gov. Brown needs to be out flogging Prop 30. Labor unions have big fish to fry, with taxes they support (Prop 30 and in some cases Prop 39) and union dues changes they oppose on the ballot (Prop 32).

But, c'mon. Few lawmakers have real races this fall. Brown knows that a credible pension bill could help him with Prop 30. And labor, for all the criticism it's offering of the pension changes, could benefit from a credible pension bill in its fight against Prop 32.

Delay is good politics. And the pension bill is profoundly political. From what I can tell, this pension offers way more bang in politics than it does in policy -- not because there's no honest desire to reform pensions but because California's governing system makes big changes nearly impossible.

Waiting and getting a credible bill is thus the smart move. Ramming something through won't please anybody -- and will make it easier to suggest that this measure was flawed, phony, or both.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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