Locals respond to Gov. Brown's call for pension changes

  • Dave Bissell of Sonoma works at the State of California building in Santa Rosa Thursday Oct. 27, 2011 as a Chief Engineer One. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to overhaul public pensions rippled through the North Bay Thursday, drawing mixed reaction from public employees, labor leaders, elected officials and fiscal watchdogs.

Aspects of his 12-point proposal could impact nearly all of Sonoma County's approximately 25,000 state, city, school and county workers. But the most sweeping changes would apply to future hires only.

Among the major proposals, Brown wants all employees to share equally with their employers in the cost of pension contributions. He also calls for increasing the age of retirement to 67 for future hires. Many public employees now retire at 55, he said.

Details of the plan were just beginning to filter to local workers Thursday, but several said they were frustrated by what they said were more attempts to balance the state's books on the backs of public employees.

"I'm just disappointed," said Ryan Green, 31, a clerk for the state Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. He said state workers have endured unpaid furloughs and increased personal contributions to their pensions and benefits.

"I can see why we're easy targets, but there are a lot of hard-working people working for the state," Green said.

Brown's plan would shift future employees from a traditional pension — where taxpayers bear the burden of payment regardless of fund losses — to a hybrid plan with 401(k)-type accounts similar to those in the private sector.

Brown's proposals would not alter pension obligations due current public employees. But Dave Bissell, 52, who makes about $57,000 a year as a chief building engineer for the state Department of General Services, said he's worried tinkering with approved benefits now may lead to reductions for retirees later.

"It's a totally slippery slope," he said.

Brown's plan comes as local governments wrestle with their own costly retirement systems. In Sonoma County, a report is due out next week on ways to decrease pension costs, which have soared more than 300 percent during the past decade.

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