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Jerry Brown taking his budget-cutting campaign into GOP territory

After the collapse of the California budget deal, Jerry Brown is appealing directly to Republican voters where they live, including a GOP-friendly proposal to reform public employee pensions.

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“When he does, opponents will say that he’s doing nothing about long-term budget problems and that he’s asking taxpayers to support fat-cat pensions. His proposals aim to undercut both arguments,” says Jack Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

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“Do they go far enough? Republican politicians say no. They want mandatory, defined-contribution plans. But his target audience consists not of GOP lawmakers, but of moderate voters who might go along with taxes but only if they think that he is really trying to curb spending in the short and long term.”

For a summary of Brown’s current proposals, click here.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Marci Fritz, Democratic president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a pension reform advocacy group, to the San Jose Mercury News. “What pension cap will he impose?”

Only 'the obvious stuff'

Republicans are concerned that Brown-led pension reform will not go far enough.

The Democrats in the Legislature, seeing the handwriting on the wall, and in an attempt to minimize the damage to union members, have agreed with Brown to let him push for reform for perceived abuses,” says Gary Aminoff, former vice chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. But, he says, addressing those perceived abuses, such as inflated pension levels, result in “minimal reductions in taxpayer liability.”

And former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello, who is preparing his own pension initiative for the fall, says Brown’s proposals only address “all the obvious stuff that everyone agrees about.”

“They’re important and are a good start,” says Niello, but they don’t address the “fundamental cost drivers.” His initiative, by contrast, does address those “cost drivers” by raising the retirement age for public employees from 50 or 55 to 62, and requiring employees to contribute at least as much to their pensions as the state does.

Because of Niello’s initiative, it is crucial – say other observers – that Jerry Brown act as fast as possible.

“Jerry Brown is trying to get ahead of the curve and stave off what may be a Republican attempt to put a drastic pension reform measure on the 2012 ballot,” says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies.

“If the unions don’t agree to some major concessions now,” he says, “they may have to spend millions of dollars fighting an initiative that is far more draconian than what Brown is proposing.”

IN PICTURES: Jerry Brown through the years


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