Could the pension wars be headed to the 2016 ballot?


A coalition of business people and former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed are launching an initiative drive to reduce California's public pensions, with the state's largest retirement system a prime target.

Reed, a Democrat who led a voter-approved measure to reduce some pension benefits in San Jose, has flirted with the idea of a statewide measure in the past, but the funding to run such a campaign has never materialized.


If Reed and his allies go ahead with a 2016 measure, they will be defying political conventional wisdom. With a presidential race on the same ballot, turnout will be high, and the electorate will skew more Democratic than in an off-year election.

That  would presumably be an electorate that would be more supportive of public pensions, and less open to the idea of business groups and out-of-state funders moving against public employee benefits.

Reuters reports, “The measure would take aim at California's $300 billion giant Calpers, which has a near-iron grip on the state's pensions. Calpers, America's largest public pension fund and administrator of pensions for more than 3,000 state and local agencies, has long argued that pensions cannot be touched or renegotiated, even in bankruptcy.

"Calpers has dedicated itself to preserving the status quo and making it difficult for anybody to reform pensions," Reed said in an interview. "This is one way to take on Calpers, and yes, Calpers will push back."

Calpers spokeswoman Rosanna Westmoreland said: "Pensions are an integral part of deferred compensation for public employees and a valuable recruitment and retention tool for employers."