Governor vetoes bill to control soaring pensions

October 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation Friday that would have reigned in the soaring pension costs for state workers. It's something he has been asking for repeatedly. So, why did he say no?

Schwarzenegger stepped up the pressure this year, calling on lawmakers to reform what he calls California's over-generous pension system, which he says is bleeding the state's budget dry year after year.

Two bills came as a result of the pay and pension scandal in the city of Bell, a third addressed the practice of pension spiking, but the governor vetoed all three.

"The problem is these bills didn't do hardly anything at all," said Aaron McLear, the governor's press secretary. "It was a knee-jerk reaction to what was happening in Bell and that's a good thing. We should be addressing what's happening in Bell."

The Bell measures would have prohibited employment contracts for city administrators that include automatic raises and renewals, which is how former Bell City Manager, Robert Rizzo's salary rose to almost $800,000 a year under the radar.

Most pensions are based on the last year of employment, so his retirement is around $600,000 annually. Another bill would have capped the salary used to calculate pensions.

St. Sen.Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, wanted to end pension spiking in his bill, where uniform allowances and unused vacation and sick time are added to pad the end-of career salaries so that the pensions are huge.

"My view is it's better to light one candle than curse the darkness. I think in this case, we missed an opportunity to shed a little light, to solve a real problem, and to then put ourselves in a position to take the next steps," says Simitian.

Good government groups say it's better to take small steps to reach the bigger goal of overhauling the pension system than wait.

"It's pretty frustrating. Clearly, voters not only in Bell, but across the states are outraged by what we've seen," says Derek Cressman from Common Cause. "And we really need the Legislature and the governor to come together on these and do something about it and we're not seeing that."

"The governor is not into baby steps. The governor is into solving problems," says McLear.

The governor has repeatedly said he wasn't going to sign a budget until he gets the major pension changes he wants. This year's record-long budget stalemate is partly because Democrats will not sign off on those major changes.


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