After spending a day digesting the details of Gov. Jerry Brown's complex pension deal pending in the Legislature, local officials say it would impact not only future local public employees but thousands of current workers, too.
By enacting "anti-spiking" provisions for existing workers, requiring employees to pay half the cost of their pensions and shifting the landscape for labor negotiations, it is becoming clear that the governor's plan goes beyond state employees and would have wide-ranging implications for local governments.
Future employees would face caps on pensions and less generous pension formulas.
The deal with Democrats in the Legislature could become law by the end of the week and for some, those changes are welcomed.
"It certainly seems to give us more flexibility," Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt said Wednesday after a day of meetings with county staff on the subject. "How we use that flexibility to make sure we come out on a sustainable path is yet to be determined."
Union officials, however, warned of the dangers of making unilateral changes without bargaining with workers. Ed Clites, president of the 500-member Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association, said some of the changes were "wiping away 40 years of gains with the swipe of a pen."
"It's less pension and you have to stay longer to get there, and that's really where the concern is," Clites said, citing new tiers of benefits for public safety workers.
Currently, county public safety workers can retire at age 50 with 3 percent of salary for every year worked, a formula referred to as "3 at 50." Clites said his members have expressed a willingness to drop to 3 at 55 for new workers.
But Brown's proposal imposes a range of new public safety tiers as low as 2.7 percent of salary at 57 years of age. County officials say the most likely new tier for their public safety workers would be 2.5 percent per year at 55.
That's where things could get dicey at the bargaining table. The county is in the middle of talks with most of its workers and just opened talks with its public safety workers, in both cases seeking salary reductions in addition to second tiers and anti-spiking provisions.
Clites suggested the imposition of even lower tiers for new workers would make them less receptive to the 3 percent compensation reduction the county seeks. He said the union may point to that lower tier and say "there's your 3 percent -- the governor did it for you."
County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said officials had only about 12 hours to analyze the changes, but it is clear they could shift the negotiations.
"That will be interesting to see if the unions will be willing to agree to that new tier and continue to reach the 3 percent savings target," she said. "I'm hopeful that the new formula won't derail the conversation."
Among local governments, the anti-spiking provisions would affect county government most, reining in generous extra pay and perks that CalPERS, the state pension giant that also oversees many city retirement benefits, does not recognize in pension calculations.