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Brown Offers State Pension Reform Plan

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Governor Brown has jumped on the bandwagon aimed at overhauling California's retirement system.

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Governor Brown has jumped on the bandwagon aimed at overhauling California's retirement system.

And while groups representing state workers are balking, pension reform advocates say he's bringing too little to the cause.

The governor's 12-point plan, unveiled Thursday at a news conference in Sacramento, has elements that invite consensus -- and others that are polarizing.

It would raise the age at which most future state employees qualify for full retirement benefits from 55 to 67, and introduce 401(k)-style pension savings plans to the mix.

State employee union leaders say their members have taken the brunt of several budget-cutting cycles in Sacramento, and see the Governor's proposals as another blow to their financial security.

They cite a provision under which current employees would have to contribute more to their retirement plans.

That provision, the governor told reporters, "is the most immediate and the biggest change that will make our pension plans more solvent."

Other aspects of the overhaul will require state Constitutional amendments, which the Governor wants the Legislature to put on the November, 2012 ballot.

Taxpayer activists say that while they're encouraged that the governor has embraced pension reform, his proposals don't seem to go far enough.

"There needs to be an avenue for greater savings to reduce labor benefits," says Chris Cate, vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Assn. "Whether the details are enough to fulfill the needs of the cities and the state is yet to be determined.

The rank-and-file say the reform measures too aggressive.

"I pay 8 percent of my salary every single month into my pension plan," says Aida Canonizado, an Employment Development Dept. worker in San Diego.  "And they're saying that's not enough; we need to pay more?  How much more am I supposed to give?"

Canonizado also deplores the new age benchmark for future state workers to receive full benefits.

"The average person retires at 62, 63," she said, "But we're forced to work until we're 67?"

The proposal is getting a cautious reception in the Legislature.

A two-thirds majority in both houses would be needed to place certain components that require voter approval on the ballot.

Failing that, the Governor would face the challenge of a costly petition campaign.

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