Date: October 22, 2010
By: Assemblymember Paul Cook, retired Colonel USMC
Assemblymember Kevin Jeffries
The Governor recently attacked us as part of a larger group of Republican legislators for refusing to jump on his band wagon of very limited pension reform during the recent budget vote. The Press Enterprise unfortunately then repeated the Governors factually challenged accusations in an article, a column, and an editorial. While the back room politics surrounding this issue are admittedly complicated, we do not believe that our decision to abstain from the Governor’s incomplete reforms have been adequately portrayed.
When we were told that we would be holding votes on October 7th, we had every expectation that the budget language would have been finalized and written and analyzed before we were asked to vote on it. In truth, while a couple of the bills were available ahead of time, there were altogether over 20 trailer bills attached to the budget, and many were being written and re-written while we were on the floor that night and morning.
These changes were not being reviewed in any meaningful way, and we were frequently being told to vote on bills for which language was still unavailable and for which analysis did not exist. One of those bills that reportedly was involved in some backroom deals being made was the Governor’s partial pension reform bill.
While some pension details had been worked out in advance, other important details were still up in the air, and not all the deals were the same. Minutes before the pension vote, we were told that the Governor had reportedly decided to remove something close to 100,000 state employees from his pension reform agreement, because a non-public safety union had threatened to otherwise kill the deal if they were included. We were then handed a pension reform bill that only included about 15% of state employees, mostly targeted at public safety employees and a handful of non-public safety employees.
This could have been a rare opportunity to get the kind of comprehensive, across-the-board pension reform for all state workers that we support, but in the end, like he did after the 2005 special election, the Governor blinked, and reportedly let one of the large state employee unions off the hook. Given these reports, and the inability to get straight answers from the administration in the middle of the night, we did not feel it was appropriate to take aim and mostly target only public safety employees, when a large segment of the “cubicle workers” in non-public safety jobs were reportedly exempted simply because they had threatened the Governor’s deal.
Despite the Governors false statements, the fact is that we did not speak or vote against the reform measure, but we were unwilling to support a reform that didn’t include everyone. We hoped until the end that the Governor would add the other non-public safety union back into the agreement so that we could support the deal, but he did not, so we could not. This was not an issue of being “bought off” or “afraid” of any particular union, but merely another example of the dysfunctional political process in Sacramento where bills are rewritten in the middle of the night out of the view of the public and the media without adequate review, and another opportunity for truly comprehensive reform missed.
That is why we could not vote to support a bill that was very selective in its approach at reform. We all agree the budget must be handled in a more open way—and this was not at all an open way.