Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Luck With That

Right wingers file ballot initiatives to end collective bargaining rights in California.

A group looking to abolish collective bargaining rights for all of California's public sector employees filed three proposed ballot initiatives this week that would hit the pocketbooks of state and local government workers.

Whether California Center for Public Policy, led by UC Santa Barbara economics lecturer Lanny Ebenstein (right), can raise enough money to put the proposals before voters is unclear.

The center released a report last year concluding that voters need a chance to resolve California's persistent fiscal problems by cutting government workers' compensation rather than raising taxes and eliminating services.

"Government does not exist to provide compensation and pensions for government workers," Ebenstein said in a news release. "Government exists to provide good public services at a reasonable cost."

He said he filed the three initiatives Tuesday with the state attorney general's office.

The first measure would ban recognition of all public-sector labor unions and prevent government authorities from collectively bargaining with them.

The second would impose a higher tax burden on pensions paid through CalPERS or CalSTRS. Someone who earns an annual pension of $100,000 to $150,000 would pay 15 percent above the regular state income tax on the pension. The rate would jump to 25 percent for any pensions above $150,000. Health benefits would not be considered in the calculation. Ebenstein said the tax would eventually raise $1 billion a year for the state.

The third would raise the retirement age for state employees to 65. Public safety workers would see their retirement age rise to 58.

A spokesman for a public employee group said he doubted Ebenstein's group could raise the money needed to campaign successfully for the three measures.

"These will end up in the same trash bin as the proposal to require Christmas music in public schools," Steve Maviglio of Californians for Retirement Security said in a statement. "These proposals are wildly out of sync with California, and fortunately there's a $15 million gap between dumb ideas and the ballot box."

Once the attorney general's office writes legal summaries for the measures, the group will need clearance from the secretary of state's office to begin collecting signatures to place it on a ballot. The signature-gathering process would cost at least $1 million for each measure, Ebenstein said earlier this year.

Ebenstein's fundraising committee has yet to solicit any donations, but he said Wednesday he would use the next few months to speak to people across the state from both parties who have made large donations to past initiative campaigns.

If the latter two measures qualify for the ballot, they could end up tangling with other proposals on pension reform, including one being considered by the Legislature.

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