As the clock ticks for state lawmakers to pass some version of Gov. Jerry Brown's pension reform plan, local business leaders at the North Bay Leadership Council are urging legislators to approve it.
"NBLC's main concern is the need to stop the hemorrhaging of money going to pay pensions that is growing day by day," said Cynthia Murray, a Petaluma resident and president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council. She added that doing so would improve the state's finances, which in turn could help the finances of cities like Petaluma.
Gov. Jerry Brown first unveiled his 12-point plan for pension reform last October, and many say that passing it is a prerequisite to getting a majority of voters to approve the governor's tax initiative in November. To do so, lawmakers have until the end of August, when the legislative session ends.
While Petaluma and other cities are implementing a two-tier pension system where new employees receive less generous benefits, the governor's plan, as proposed, takes bigger steps, including requiring all state workers to pay half the cost of their retirement benefits, implementing a "hybrid" pension that includes a 401(k) plan for new hires, and raising the retirement age for the majority of workers to 67.
Murray said that passing the plan is important for Petaluma and other cities that are members of the employee retirement system CalPERS because the state's action would set a precedent that cities could follow.
Assemblymember Mike Allen, who does not currently represent Petaluma but is running for North Bay Assemblymember Jared Huffman's seat this fall, is on the pension conference committee that is tasked with going over the plan and bringing a bill before lawmakers. He was also recently appointed chair of the Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security.
Allen says he supports the governor's plan and hopes the committee can bring something before the Senate and Assembly in the next couple weeks.
"What the governor gave us was a blueprint with no details, and the devil is in the details," he said, explaining the plan's slow progress. "That's what we've been working out for the last six months."
One detail that has become a sticking point is at what age employees should retire. Gov. Brown suggested increasing the age to 67 for most employees, but Allen and others have suggested that the age should vary depending on how physically demanding jobs are.
Petaluma's current Assemblymember Jared Huffman also expressed overall support for the pension plan but has reservations about some points, such as retirement age, which he said could require some "fine tuning."
"Increasingly, the public needs to know our fiscal house is in order," Huffman added.
Referencing groups like the NBLC, Huffman added, "The chorus of stakeholders around the state urging us to get something done is helpful,."
Mark Levine, who is running against Mike Allen for the Petaluma assembly seat Jared Huffman is vacating, spoke in favor of the plan without reservations, saying he supports all 12 points of the plan.