California Labor Groups Will Fight Against Pension-Cutting Ballot Measure Like It’s “World War III”

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Last week, Pension360 covered former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s push to get a pension reform measure on California’s statewide ballot in 2016.

Details are sparse on what exactly the measure would look like.

But based on Reed’s comments to the media in recent weeks, it’s likely the measure would aim to make it easier for cities to cut pension payments to CalPERS, or reduce the cost of leaving the system entirely.

In any case, union leaders are already indicating that the fight against the measure will be hard-fought – and exceptionally expensive for both sides.

From the National Review:

[The potential ballot measure is] a direct challenge to the state’s unions, and one that Dave Low, executive director of the California School Employees Association, promised that labor would answer forcefully. “If that’s the direction they go,” he said, “it’s going to be World War III.”

And what an expensive war it will be: In 2005, unions spent about $100 million against a series of ballot measures on teacher tenure, union campaign spending, and other topics pushed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, including $60 million from the California Teachers Association alone.

“We will spend whatever it takes to defeat it,” Low said of the pension-reform initiative. “No other issue gives rise to the same level of strong opposition from rank and file members than this issue.”

The plan’s supporters won’t be so well funded, Reed admits, but the question is how big the spending gap will be. Reed has been “using the ballpark number of $20 million” when planning how much they’ll be able to spend. (Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist and the spokesman for Californians for Retirement Security, said he thinks Reed and his allies will have to spend $30-50 million to have a shot at getting the ballot initiative passed.)

To put the measure on the 2016 ballot, Reed and his backers will need to obtain the signatures of 585,000 registered voters, according to Reuters.

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