You should read three interesting stories on pensions published today if you’re into this kind of thing. First, The New York Times takes a lengthy look at public employee unions’ influence on California pension politics. The key nugget:

For years, public employee unions across the state have often used their influence — sometimes behind the scenes but occasionally with public, hardball campaigns — to push for improved worker pay and benefits. They have exercised power beyond their numbers by donating money to lawmakers, burnishing candidates’ credentials with endorsements and supplying volunteers during elections.

San Diego isn’t the only big city that’s trying to give new employees 401(k)-style retirements, instead of pensions. The Wall Street Journal details Atlanta’s efforts to eliminate pensions and the source of its pension woes:

Atlanta’s cash woes have been exacerbated by the recession, which hit the city of 420,000 people hard. But its pension crisis is partly self-inflicted. Votes by the City Council in 2001 and 2005 dramatically increased the value of pension benefits for city workers. The city’s liabilities increased as a result, but Atlanta didn’t adequately increase contributions to its pension funds. The city’s police pension was 96% funded in 2000 but is only 64% funded now. The firefighters’ pension was more than 92% funded in 2000; funding is now 61.4%.

Sound familiar? The Journal mentions lots of other cities that are trying to reform their pensions, but leaves out San Diego.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is pushing a pension ballot measure that is far more aggressive than San Diego’s initiative to reduce pension payouts for current workers. Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office said recently that San Jose’s plan raises “serious” legal concerns, according to the Mercury News:

Reed has argued that the city’s pension problem is too large to fix simply by lowering benefits for future hires. He has called for phasing in changes such as raising retirement ages and reducing benefit accruals for existing employees.

Harris’ letter said that the Attorney General’s Office has taken a dim view of such ideas in the past and that Reed’s proposal would be “an extraordinary maneuver.”

An attorney general’s review doesn’t carry the weight of a court opinion, though it can provide guidance to government leaders. Harris’ office would not speculate what action she might take if San Jose pursues Reed’s proposal.

“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals,” said Shum Preston, a spokesman for Harris’ office.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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