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Now that scientists in Geneva have found the legendary Higgs boson, the subatomic Holy Grail of physics, perhaps they can focus on resolving that other great mystery of the universe: Whatever happened to the governor's pension reform plan?

It may take more than the world's largest atom smasher to solve this one.

Eight months have passed since Gov. Jerry Brown issued his 12-point plan for reforming pensions. Since then, the state has gone through another budget cycle, a long election season and endless debates about sundry legislation and tax initiatives. And yet nothing has been accomplished concerning pensions.

I shouldn't say nothing. The Legislature did pass AB 646, a law that took effect in January making it harder for cities to reduce pensions or trim payroll costs. Cities that don't already have binding arbitration, as Santa Rosa does, now have to go through a lengthy fact-finding/mediation period if they reach an impasse in talks with employee unions. (This law became one of the reasons Santa Rosa has opted to go to voters with a rewritten binding arbitration clause rather that do what it should have done and give voters a straight up or down vote.)

And then last month, the Legislature passed AB 1692, which the San Jose Mercury News described as nothing but a "big fat kiss to public employee unions." It essentially makes it much harder for cities to declare bankruptcy.

Struggling communities including Stockton (which filed for bankruptcy protection on June 28) and Mammoth Lakes (which did the same on Tuesday), </CF>see this as their last hope of getting out from under massive debt, including unfunded pension obligations. But it's clear state legislators are still more interested to helping public employee unions.

There was hope of change when it was reported that Brown and legislative Democrats were working on a compromise pension reform plan. But, as with those early attempts to find the "God particle," it proved elusive. The governor announced last week that he and Democratic leaders had failed to reach a deal before the Legislature broke Friday for its month-long summer recess. Assembly Speaker John P?ez said Democrats would keep working during the recess in hopes of making a deal. "The Assembly has been working diligently to finalize a pension proposal," he said.

What is it about the Legislature's vows to work diligently that reminds me of my kids' promising to get their chores done? <NO1>Those pledges<NO><NO1>always seem to be followed by extended periods of inaction<NO><NO1>.

The difference is that I have faith that my kids will get the job done.

So what is the hang-up in discussions with the governor? No one knows. It's dark matter.

As with the recent budget talks, all of the discussions are going on behind closed doors. And, similarly, the public is unlikely to know the outcome of those discussions until hours before any legislation comes up for a final vote.

How is that we've come to the point where we can debate publicly for years on whether to legalize ferrets in California, but when it comes to formulating and authorizing the most pivotal financial legislation shaping the future of the state, it emerges with Big Bang-like haste?

It reminds me of a series of unintentionally humorous newspaper headlines that my brother-in-law sent me last week. One read: "Meeting on open meetings is closed."

What we do know at this point is that Democratic leaders have issued a counterproposal, a plan that Brown has rejected. That's cause for concern because while Brown's 12-point plan is comprehensive, it's modest in many areas. For example, he wants to:

<;>Create a hybrid pension system, one that combines a traditional defined benefit plan with a 401(.k)-type defined contribution system. The only downside is that this would only be for new employees.

<;>Require employees to pay at least 50 percent of the annual cost for their pension benefits. This would be a huge boost for the state as well as cities and counties that are drowning in pension debt.

<;>Increase retirement ages to align them with "actual working years and life expectancy." In other words, no more retiring at 50 with pensions equal to 90 percent of salary or more. Brown wants to set retirement ages to match those of Social Security, meaning 67. Public safety empoyees would still be allowed to retire earlier, but, again, these changes would only be for new hires.

We'll see if these "points" survive in the final draft of any reform package that emerges. In the meantime, legislators have already missed the June 28 deadline to get a pension measure on the fall ballot. That suggests they may be betting that the governor's tax initiative will pass without need of a comprehensive reform plan. If so, there's a lot riding on that bet — including funding for education equal to three weeks of class time.

Particle physics I'm beginning to understand. But that kind of thinking remains a black hole to me.