The nation's largest association representing public pension systems
today filed an amicus
brief in the Sacramento County Superior Court in support of state
Attorney General Kamala Harris and her title and summary for San Jose
Mayor Chuck Reed's ballot initiative designed to eliminate
constitutional protections for California's public employee retirement
The National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS)
represents more than 550 public pension funds in the U.S. and Canada -
including virtually all of California's state and county public
retirement systems and several major city retirement systems. NCPERS'
California member funds administer benefits for approximately 2.5
million current and retired public employees in California.
What Reed and his fellow petitioners are attempting to do in their
lawsuit against Harris "is to propose a significant change to our state
constitution, then shield the voters from knowing the truth about what
(Reed and his fellow petitioners) seek to accomplish," NCPERS asserts in
its amicus brief. "Petitioners' objections...are merely an effort to
hide the truth about the Initiative from voters."
NCPERS believes Harris's title and summary for Reed's proposal
"accurately and fairly informs voters that the Initiative would
eliminate existing state constitutonal protections that the California
Supreme Court has long held apply to state and local employees. Under
the Court's prior decisions, current employees possess a 'vested'
right to accrue retirement benefits for future work based on the
benefits promised at the time they commenced employment - a right the
Court has held is protected from impairment by the Contract Clause of
the California Constitution. This is commonly referred to as the
Reed's objections center around the following language in Harris's
description of what his initiative would do:
"Eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree
health care benefits for current public employees, including teachers,
nurses, and peace officers, for future work performed."
His lawsuit targets the words and phrases "eliminates constitutional
protections," "vested" and "teachers, nurses and peace officers."
NCPERS' brief points out that while Reed and fellow petitioner Pacific
Grove Mayor William Kampe object to that language now, they have used it
publicly themselves to describe the purpose of the ballot initiative -
most notably in an online
opinion piece in Fox and Hounds Daily, in which they argue
that "government leaders have their hands tied by the 'California Rule'
on vested rights... To eliminate these roadblocks to
reform, we have authored a ballot initiative that would empower state
and local leaders to negotiate changes to employees' future retirement
Now that California voters have reacted
negatively to the very language they used themselves to promote the
ballot measure, Reed and Kampe are crying foul.
"Having previously used the word 'eliminates' to tout this very aspect
of the initiative to their constituency, Petitioners now apparently fear
that the voters at large will not embrace such a dramatic elimination of
constitutional protections," NCPERS argues in its brief. "That fear does
not, however, justify this Court's intervention to replace a perfectly
accurate word, here, 'eliminates.'" With regard to Reed's objection to
the term "teachers, nurses, and peace officers," NCPERS points out that
half of California's approximately 2.1 million public employees fall
into those categories. "Given this, it is entirely reasonable - and
appropriate - for the Attorney General to specifically mention these
groups so that voters are aware which professions constitute the largest
sub-groups of 'public employees' who will be affected by the Initiative."
"Petitioners are free to disagree with the California Rule and, as they
have done with the Initiative, propose constitutional amendments that
would eliminate the California Rule," NCPERS concludes in its brief.
"What Petitioners are not free to do is to propose such a significant
change to our state constitution, then shield the voters from knowing
the truth about what it is that the Petitioners seek to accomplish."
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