After more than a year of secretive maneuvering with Democrats in the Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a pension reform package on Tuesday that offers very little immediate budget relief for state or local governments.
Brown said the changes would save $18 billion to $30 billion over the next 30 years. But if the reforms outlined in press releases accurately reflect what's in the legislation, it would be a modest step forward.
Details were hard to come by on Tuesday because the pension bills were not in print before the governor made his announcement. That alone ought to give the public and legislators pause.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature is poised to approve the complicated pension reform measure in the final three days of the session. No one with expertise, outside of a select few insiders, had seen the language by late Tuesday.
Democratic leaders say the package would prohibit granting retroactive benefits. It also would bar government workers from enhancing their retirement by purchasing service credits, so-called "airtime."
Additionally, it would ban pension holidays in which government employers and employees stop contributing to pension funds. Those all are good and necessary reforms.
To guard against spiking, the governor says his package would require that pension calculations be based on workers' final three-year salary averages and include regular recurring pay only, not unused vacation pay, sick leave or overtime pay.
However, the anti-spiking provisions would apply to new hires only, meaning major savings would not be realized for years if not decades.
Retirement ages for full benefits would be increased to 57 for public safety employees and 67 for other government workers covered by the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
There is a significant catch, however. None of the formula rollbacks or retirement age increases would apply to charter cities that have their own pension systems and are not in CalPERS. That means that some of the state's biggest cities, including Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and San Diego, are not included.
University of California employees, who have their own retirement system, also would not be covered.
Brown's package would hit some current workers by requiring that they contribute at least half of the cost of their retirement benefit.
If local governments can't win that 50 percent share standard at the bargaining table after five years, it could be imposed unilaterally.
The governor barely finished his pension reform announcement, when public employee union officials began denouncing it. One union leader called it "the largest rollback in providing secure retirements for teachers, firefighters and police in California history."
Given the exemptions and the fact that few reforms cover current workers, skeptics doubt union leaders are as troubled as they claim.
Before California enacts comprehensive pension reform, the public needs to know who is covered and what savings will be produced.
This issue is too important to be jammed through the Legislature in the last three days of the session. It would be better to hold a special session to allow legislators and public to know what's really in this reform.