Proponents of a pension-change initiative want a judge to edit key language used to describe their measure, contending that it was written to bias voters against it.
The lawsuit filed this week by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and four other local government officials behind the proposal accuses Attorney General Kamala Harris of writing a title and summary that “uses false and misleading words and phrases which argue for the measure’s defeat, is argumentative, and creates prejudice against the measure, rather than merely informing voters of its chief purposes and points ...”
Reed said last month that he would sue over Harris’ official depiction of the pension measure, which would change the California Constitution to give state and local governments authority to alter future pension formulas for current employees, among other things. Decades of case law, including a recent ruling on a voter-approved San Jose measure that Reed backed, treat pensions as a vested right from an employee’s first day on the job.
Organized labor also objected to Harris’ title and summary last month but for different reasons. The unions wanted Harris to emphasize the risk they believe the measure poses to the retirement security of both current and future public workers. Harris also should have cast the proposal as sanctioning the abrogation of contracts, labor leaders said, since pensions are normally negotiated and are considered deferred compensation.
Reed’s lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court with a request for speedy action, asks a judge to order that Harris amend the title and summary to eliminate the underlined words in the first sentence of her title and summary:
Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including teachers, nurses, and peace officers, for future work performed.
Even if the legal challenge is settled within a few weeks and Reed prevails, it’s unlikely that his measure would make the November ballot. A campaign would have to collect more than 800,000 paid signatures by mid-April to make the next deadline in the qualifying process, and each day that passes makes such an effort more expensive. Reed has said he may return with a pension-change initiative in 2016.