The State Worker

Four budget proposals show Jerry Brown’s state worker agenda

The California State Capitol building from the Tower Bridge in Sacramento.
The California State Capitol building from the Tower Bridge in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown has added a few splashes of detail to his civil-service agenda for 2015 with a handful of state budget bill proposals posted online by his Department of Finance.

Some have potential to impact every state government employee and retiree now and for decades to come. One affects high-level officials. Another is little more than a vague intention. One is a fill-in the blank document that won’t be finished until the governor bargains with unions.

Here’s a quick take on each “budget trailer bill.” None has a number or a legislative author yet.

Employees’ health benefits

What it does: Requires CalPERS to offer a high-deductible health insurance plan that would take effect Jan. 1, 2016, plus a low-cost Medicare-supplement plan for retirees.

Also mandates a new, unspecified cash contribution for retiree-insurance benefits that employers and employees would split. Authorizes the Department of Human Resources to set up and administer a health savings account plan for state workers.

Who would be affected: Taxpayers who would have to ante up millions of dollars each year to prefund retiree benefits. Current and future employees would have to pay their share. Current retirees could see their their insurance subsidy decline by an unknown amount if enough state workers took the high-deductible plan to pull down the average cost the state uses to calculate post-employment medical benefits.

Analysis: Bruce Blanning, executive director of the state engineers’ union, noted, “We’ve seen this before, with pensions.” The outcome – a cost shift of benefits to employees – will likely play out here, too, after much union protesting and dickering for some sort of partial offset, such raises or more paid time off.

Future employees’ health benefits

What it does: Reduces by an unspecified amount the state’s share of retiree health insurance for employees hired by the state on Jan. 1, 2016 and later. Also requires they work 15 years to qualify for 50 percent of the state’s retiree-insurance subsidy, up to 25 years for 100 percent of the benefit. Right now, employees reach the threshold for half the subsidy at 10 years and earn the max at 20 years.

Who would be affected: Future state workers under gubernatorial control, California State University employees, legislative employees and judicial-branch employees.

Analysis: Brown has committed to bargaining health benefits with labor. The unions won’t like it, but cutting benefits for future retirees is politically easier – and less legally precarious – than cutting benefits for people already employed or retired.

Additional appointments

What it does: Requires the the Department of Human Resources to “adopt policies to advise state agencies regarding the procedures and appropriate use of additional appointments,” which occur when a state employee holds two state jobs.

Who is affected: In theory, no one, after a Sacramento Bee investigation prompted Brown to ban managers from moonlighting for their departments to collect hourly pay on top of their monthly salary. CalHR late last year issued a report on the topic that confirmed The Bee’s finding that hundreds of employees engaged in the practice, which violates federal labor law.

Analysis: The trailer bill doesn’t yet specify what the department will do to ensure unlawful additional appointments don’t crop up again.

Government accountability

What it does: Tweaks a 22-year-old law that holds state agency heads responsible for the efficient operation and accounting of their agencies. Some terms are more narrowly defined. (A brain-numbing example: “’Internal control’ means a process, including a continuous built-in component of operations, affected by a state agency’s oversight body, management, and other personnel ...” You get the idea.)

Who would be affected: High-level department leaders responsible for internal audits.

Analysis: Sure, it’s insider policy, but the bill is another indication of Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal to run state government more efficiently. Hard to see much opposition.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.

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