Meg “unveils” more plans for state worker pension cutbacks

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Whitman willing to take pension cutbacks to the ballot box


By David Siders

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

Last Modified: Tuesday, Sep. 21, 2010 – 3:56 pm

Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman said Monday that she would place pension cutbacks on the ballot if negotiations with state workers fail and would consider using her personal fortune not only to win office but to advance her agenda if elected.

Taking the issue to voters is “not my first choice,” she told The Bee’s editorial board. “But if we have to … this is an issue we have got to take up.”

The former eBay CEO and billionaire said she “possibly” would put her own money behind a ballot measure campaign.

“My preference would be to raise the money, would be to, you know, make sure that we had a broad constituency,” she said.

Whitman also said the extension of collective bargaining rights to state workers in 1977 was “probably not a good thing.”

Asked if she would try to revoke the law – a measure signed by her Democratic opponent, Jerry Brown, when he was first governor – Whitman said, “I won’t take it off the table, but it wouldn’t be the very first thing I do.”

State employee unions have campaigned vigorously against Whitman, and her remarks Monday hinted at a possible re-match of the 2005 battle between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the unions. The California Nurses Association helped defeat several initiatives to overhaul state government that were championed by Schwarzenegger, who had boasted beforehand that he was “always kicking their butts.”

Whitman has already demonstrated, however, that her wealth can alter the dynamic of an election. She has donated more than $119 million of her own money to her gubernatorial campaign, the most expensive self-funded effort in U.S. history.

“The danger for her is that it will be a re-run of 2005,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. “But a couple of things could be different. No. 1, she has a lot of cash. No. 2, public attitude may have changed. There may be a greater sense that public employees have to bear some of the cost of budget reduction.”

Whitman wants to raise the retirement age for most state employees, increase employee contributions and put new hires on 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of defined-benefit pensions. She would exempt public safety workers, but not prison guards, from the 401(k) approach.

Brown has said he would keep defined benefits in place but increase employee contributions and reduce benefit levels for new hires. Schwarzenegger and six unions this year have negotiated tentative labor deals involving some of the same provisions.

Whitman said the self- financing of her campaign insulates her from the influence of unions, which have spent millions on Brown’s behalf.

“If Jerry Brown is governor, there will be a meeting,” Whitman said. “The meeting will be for the public employee unions to collect the IOUs that they are owed for funding his entire campaign.”

Brown in his two terms as governor, from 1975 to 1983, did not always please employee unions, and he has said he is not beholden to them.

Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford said Whitman “has admitted she is in the pockets of the big banks on Wall Street and will be looking out for their interests.”

In her meeting with The Bee and at a campaign event later in Sacramento, Whitman said she will decide by the end of the week how she will vote on Proposition 23, which would suspend implementation the state’s greenhouse gas reduction law until the statewide unemployment rate hits 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.

Whitman has said she would suspend the law, AB 32, for one year, but she has yet to take a position on the proposition.

She said the law includes a proviso that allows for suspension in times of economic distress.

Brown, a supporter of AB 32, criticized Whitman, saying in a written statement on Monday, “While Texas oil pumps millions into the yes campaign, Meg Whitman continues to flip and flop her way out of taking a real stance on this harmful measure (Proposition 23).”

While willing to use the initiative process to fight labor unions, Whitman also said rampant use of the initiative in California is problematic.

“I do think it needs to be harder to get initiatives on the ballot,” she said.

Among various spending-reduction measures, Whitman said she would consider housing some inmates at prisons in other states to reduce costs and prison crowding. She also said she would consider privatizing prison operations.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union representing the state’s prison guards, endorsed Brown on Monday.

Whitman also told The Bee that change is necessary to stop inmates on death row from living for decades with cases on appeal.

“Basically, you’ve got to sort of say you can’t just sort of appeal and appeal and appeal and appeal,” Whitman said. “So I think there has to be some change in the process by which death row inmates live on for 20, 30-odd years on death row. I think we’ve got to take that up.”


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