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GOP Buys Brown Pension Reform; Labor, Not So Much

Odd alliance highlights election-year tensions at Capitol

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GOP Buys Brown Pension Reform

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Analyst says the plan is a start, but doesn't go far enough.

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Capitol Republicans appear to have had a significant change of heart.

Last year, during budget talks, they were unable to strike a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown on pension reforms that he offered.  Those reforms didn't go far enough, critics said at the time.

This week, those lawmakers announced that they are solidly behind the 12 point pension reform plan that Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled last year.  In fact, they're introducing legislation that mirrors the governor's proposal.

"We have not changed one comma, one period or one word," Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said in a statement.  "This is his plan as he wrote it, and we will stand with him to see it passed."

Of course, to see it passed would require Democratic votes.  The Republican move reflects skepticism that Democrats will take any reform measure seriously, especially since a campaign to place pensions on the November ballot recently died a quiet death for lack of financial backing.

The Republican maneuver appears designed to highlight Democratic opposition to making changes in the system.  This, an in election year when polls show the public is very unhappy with what they perceive as generous government pensions.

"Now it's up to the governor to get the Democrats on board," said Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

That's a problem for Brown.  Labor groups are very unhappy with his plan, which would raise the retirement age to 67 and, more significantly, move new employees to a hybrid system of defined contributions that include 401(k) investments.

Democratic leaders like Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, have indicated a willingness to consider some changes.  Republicans believe that's lip service.

For Brown, the Republican move complicates his need to achieve some pension reforms this year. Brown wants to point to progress in this area, not only because of his campaign pledge, but also in order to boost his efforts to convince voters to pass his tax package in November.

There will not be a successful up-or-down vote on Brown's plan as it stands.  The question is whether Republicans will settle for less reform, as opposed to none at all.

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