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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011-05-31 "Labor group reaches into GOP districts" by Steven Harmon from "Contra Costa Times" newspaper:
SACRAMENTO -- The last group you'd think would sway Republican voters is a public employee labor union.
But David Kieffer, the political director of the Service Employees International Union, thinks he has the tools and the approach to persuade GOP voters to support its highest political priority: extending the current level of sales, income and auto taxes to help close the state's $10 billion deficit.
It is a multimillion-dollar experiment for the SEIU, the largest public employee union in California, with 700,000 members. Kieffer has targeted 10 Republican legislators' districts with TV, radio and newspaper ads, fliers and billboards over the past two weeks. The TV and radio campaign has reached 2.6 million viewers and listeners in five markets: Sacramento, Fresno, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
The campaign has two purposes: to provide cover for some Republicans who are considering voting for taxes, or at least voting to put tax extensions on the ballot as legislators work toward the June 15 budget deadline; and to harangue other Republicans who may be vulnerable to accusations that they are blocking reasonable compromise solutions.
"Republicans who want to do the right thing will know they will have the political backing to do it," Kieffer said. "They don't have to worry about right-wing attacks in a primary. We'll have their backs if they stand up to an all-cuts budget."
A short-term objective is to help persuadefour Republicans to vote for tax extensions this year; a long-term goal is to elect moderate, pro-government Republicans in newly drawn districts in 2012 and beyond under the new top-two primary system, in which two members of the same party could face each other in a general election.
A draft of newly drawn legislative seats is expected to be published June 10.
Some are skeptical about the SEIU's ability to pressure incumbents to vote in favor of taxes this year.
"The threat from the SEIU is far less likely to result in Republicans going up on taxes this year than to result in putting Republicans in the Legislature next year who may vote for taxes," said Jon Fleischman, the state's most influential conservative blogger.
"But all Republicans should be concerned because I think it could be a very effective long-term strategy. They may find Republican candidates willing to raise taxes -- a former fireman or police officer who supports public pensions, and that would be unfortunate. To have a hostile force influence which Republicans get elected is not desirable but is a predictable outcome of Proposition 14."
Proposition 14, approved by voters last year, will allow the top two candidates in a race to face each other in the general election, regardless of party. That, combined with newly drawn district lines that are supposed to avoid gerrymandering practices that protected incumbents in the past, could result in voters electing more moderate candidates in some Republican districts because Democrats could cross party lines.
A key to his strategy, Kieffer said, is to change the terms of the debate, and present the choice as protecting services that Republicans care for, such as public safety, education and in-home care for the elderly, rather than whether they support tax extensions.
Republicans considering taxes, however, are worried that they will face the wrath of anti-tax groups and conservative talk show hosts. The fear of being targeted for recall efforts is also real, though no Republican who voted for taxes or to put them on the ballot in 2009 was ever recalled. Of the six who voted for taxes that year, only one was defeated in a GOP primary.
But Republican voters can be reached with another message that steers from the typical anti-tax rants, Kieffer said. His polling -- done purposely by Republican pollster Bob Moore to ensure as accurate a picture of GOP sentiment as possible -- showed that 80 percent of Republicans in the targeted districts do not want cuts in education, public safety, or even home care services for the elderly. Framed simply as a fight over tax extensions, and the support drops precipitously.
One feature to work with: The SEIU has a sizable number of Republicans among its ranks, 87,000 of its 466,000 registered voters.
"If we can figure out how to position this discussion so it's about stopping layoffs to cops and firefighters and saving in-home services for the elderly before Republicans take their vote," Kieffer said, "that would make it easier on them to defend their vote."
In one of his more Byzantine ventures, Kieffer targeted three GOP incumbents in the Modesto area: Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Stockton; Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto; and Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Stanislaus.
The Berryhill brothers have been involved in discussions on tax extensions with Gov. Jerry Brown, while Olsen has been a vocal opponent of taxes. Kieffer has sent fliers into Stanislaus County with an image of Olsen superimposed in front of what looks like a prisoner transport bus filled with convicts.
"Why won't Assemblymember Olsen stop police layoffs and protect public safety?" the flier asks. "She and a handful of legislators can help solve the state budget without making extreme cuts to public safety."
At the same time, the SEIU distributed fliers with a more encouraging tone for Tom Berryhill.
"We're counting on Tom Berryhill," the flier reads. "Sen. Tom Berryhill knows that divisive politics and partisan bickering won't fix our schools, keep our neighborhoods safe or balance the state budget. But some extremists have threatened to attack Sen. Berryhill with negative ads, demanding he support a drastic 'all-cuts' budget."
Kieffer has only addressed the issue generically in Bill Berryhill's district -- calculating that using his name would only rub him the wrong way. But the attacks on Olsen -- as well as the friendlier nudges to his brother -- could serve Bill Berryhill's interests, and make him more amenable to a vote for taxes, Kieffer said.
Under newly drawn districts and a top-two primary, Bill Berryhill and Olsen could face each other in a general election next year.
"So, when they get stuck in an election against each other, she starts in with her anti-tax mantra and people will go, 'Yeah, but she wanted to lay off cops and firefighters,' " Kieffer said. "We're just laying the groundwork."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Billionaire Corporate UC Regents Hit Workers With Pension Increases

2011-05-23 "UC Retirement Plan contributions increasing July 1"
Faculty, staff and UC will contribute more to the UC Retirement Plan (UCRP) beginning July 1.
Rates for most faculty and staff will rise to 3.5 percent of pay, up from roughly 2 percent for most employees. The university will pay 7 percent of pay, up from 4 percent. The amount will increase again in July 2012, with employees paying 5 percent and UC paying 10 percent.
Faculty and staff will see the increased contributions reflected in their regular paychecks for July earnings, which are available between July 20 and August 6, depending on whether employees are paid biweekly, monthly or another cycle. All employee contributions are pre-tax.
The new contribution levels affect only active members of the UCRP and are subject to collective bargaining for represented employees.
The Regents approved the increases last fall as part of a plan to address UCRP’s unfunded liability.
For almost 20 years, until the spring of 2010, UC and its faculty and staff did not pay into the retirement plan because the plan maintained a surplus. But a combination of factors – steep market losses, the lack of contributions and changing demographics – led to a deficit.
Until UC and its employees together begin contributing enough to cover the annual increase in cost for active members (in excess of 17% of pay), the pension program’s current $14 billion unfunded liability will grow, adding to the pressures on UC’s operating budget.
In the past year, the Regents have taken a number of actions to address the pension shortfall. Those actions include establishing a new tier of benefits for employees hired beginning July 1, 2013, and approving internal borrowing options to better fund the pension plan.
Learn more about UCRP and Regents actions to reduce the plan’s unfunded liability at the Future of UC Retirement Plan website:

7 Comments for this entry
Anonymous -
“…But a combination of factors – steep market losses, the lack of contributions and changing demographics – led to a deficit.”
The general S&P500 has recovered since the 2007 and in fact has gained above 2007 so why has funds not recovered and UC has to take loss? What is the guarantee that funds will not sink even after 10% contribution? Why in first place was fund managed so badly?

Anonymous -
Sounds like a 3% pay cut to me.

Staff Employee -
No raises for three years, no merits, no cost of living increases, we took a furlough for the UC system last year, as well as contributed 2% of our earnings. The cost of food, gasoline, utilities have increased significantly in the past few years – how about giving the staff a raise!! Faculty and administrators get merit increases meanwhile staff gets poorer and poorer – we need some advocacy on behalf of the staff of the UC campuses! Stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of your staff.

Mark Patterson -
I am a staff member at UCSB and have been here just short of 10 year. 5 years ago I took another position and that was the last time I received a pay increase. I have been doing the job of 2.5 people compared to other similar sized departments on campus, and was assigned 1/2 of another persons job when she retired back in Sept. 2010. Still no increase. Now with this increase in the UCRP, I will see my take home pay drop by 1.5%. How do I keep explaining to my family that I will not get a raise and the university will take more money out. We do not take vacations or spend money frivolously and we live in subsidized housing. There has been no cost of living increase and yet UCSB has spent over a billion dollars in the last decade to start and complete new buildings and other “capital improvements”. Many faculty in my department have received merit increases over the last couple of years, even during the period when the furlough time was in effect and my pay was cut 5%. The debt my family incurred during that time and since just to pay bills and buy food now hangs over us. When is it enough. Stop building and growing enrollment when the UC system cannot afford it. Show some leadership and help those who work long hours, more than we are ever allowed to report to keep things running smoothly enabling students to navigate in an increasing tough and expense academic environment. If you value us as the backbone of the university system. Prove it.

Anonymous -

Anonymous -
Yep. No raises for how many years and then within a year from now I’ll be losing $250/month to the pension. Remind me again why I’m working?

Will this increase continue to exclude $19? 3.5%-$19?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

2011-05-06 "Wisconsin-Style Occupation Planned in California" by Allison Kilkenny from "The Nation" weekly newsmagazine
The Wisconsin backlash against Gov. Walker’s union-busting crusade is widely seen as some of the most effective protests against austerity partly because activists occupied the state Capitol and refused to leave. These acts of physical resistance are truly the last refuge of the liberal class, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. In fact, he says liberals have a “moral imperative” to perform them.
"[I]f we don’t begin to physically defend the civil society, all resistance will be ceded to very proto-fascist movements such as the Tea Party that celebrate the gun culture, the language of violence, seek scapegoats for their misery.”
In other words, it’s not enough to sign on-line petitions. The only acts that still strike fear in the hearts of the wealthy and powerful are mass acts in which bodies fill rotundas and the halls of power.
Following the Wisconsin tradition of meaningful protest, the California Teachers Association is planning a weeklong “State of Emergency” campaign designed to focus on budget cuts in schools and the need to avoid further reductions to spending.
CTA President David Sanchez told delegates to the state Democratic Party convention last weekend that protesters will stage "daily sit-ins" inside the Capitol.
State of Emergency hopes to convince legislators to pass a state budget with tax extensions estimated to generate some $12 billion for the state and local governments, and also to change the tax structure in order to support stable funding for public education.
In the last three years, California school funding has been cut by $20 billion.
Long-time peace activist Cindy Sheehan has also pledged to occupy the Capitol in an attempt to obtain a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown, though Sheehan’s goals extend far beyond the education cuts and apply to austerity, in general.
"The savage austerity measures proposed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown are an attack on the vulnerable people of this state, and no amount of partisan politicking can hide that fact," she said.
Sheehan has already braced herself for the possibility of arrest.
"I'm willing to be arrested, if that's what it's going to take," she said. "I want to go through the proper channels to request a meeting with Gov. Brown in the establishment way, but I'm willing to also try in a non-establishment way."
In Ohio, protesters continue to resist Gov. Kasich’s union assault. While thousands gathered outside the Statehouse yesterday to demand job creation, a separate protest was held to oppose Senate Bill 5, a Republican measure signed by Kasich that limits collective bargaining for public employees.
Thousands of citizens have descended on the Statehouse in the past few months to protest Senate Bill 5, a reality that inspired this very strange response from the governor: “If they’re out here protesting, it makes for good news I guess,” he said.
During another Ohio protest yesterday in Bexley, Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman joined officials from several city suburbs to decry legislators’ plans to repeal the Ohio estate tax.
Only 7.5 percent of Ohioans are wealthy enough to pay the tax, so Coleman views the repeal as a giveaway to the rich.
"They're cutting taxes for the rich, while at the same time, they're cutting services to ordinary people," Coleman said. "Residents should be outraged over this immoral act."
Columbus collects about $9 million per year in taxes from the estates of residents, a small portion of the city's $705 million general-fund budget.
Bexley collects an average of $1.7 million per year, about the cost for all of its fire protection or half the cost of running the police department, said Councilman Ben Kessler.
"This is a gigantic impact on the city of Bexley's income," he said.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

2011-05-05 "In California, Study Says, Teachers’ Pensions Fall Short of Other Public Workers’" By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH from "New York Times" newspaper
As states and cities debate whether benefits can or should be cut back for public workers, a new study suggests some of those workers have a lot more to fight for than others.
The study found that public school teachers’ retirement benefits — at least the part taxpayers pay for — are smaller than those of virtually any other type of public employee, despite frequent claims that teachers’ pensions are excessive and diverting precious dollars from education and other essential government services.
It appears, in fact, that the teachers in the study would be better off if their current pension plan were scrapped entirely, and replaced by one cutting the defined benefit portion and adding a defined contribution feature. Public employees, and the unions that represent them, have generally resisted any such shift, arguing that a traditional defined-benefit pension provides the best security in retirement.
The study, by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, analyzed employee benefits only in that state, one of the most fiscally troubled and the seat of a long-running debate about public pensions and whether they are crowding out other public spending. But the foundation’s president, Marcia Fritz, said her researchers had devised a straightforward way of comparing retirement benefits that could be used easily by analysts in other states.
Ms. Fritz, an accountant who has long been calling for pension changes in California, said she was stunned by the difference between the teachers’ retirement benefits and what other state and local workers received.
“My initial reaction, when I saw the teachers, was, ‘It’s a game changer,’ ” she said. “I had no clue.”
The study was released as debate becomes heated in California over how much public pensions are to blame for the state’s fiscal woes and what to do about it. Gov. Jerry Brown has said he would use some type of pension cuts to help bridge the state’s $15 billion budget deficit, but he has also said current workers’ benefit formulas cannot be changed in mid-career. Fiscal hawks, and some lawyers, say that approach is too timid. Public employees’ unions, meanwhile, say their members are being wrongly blamed for a small number of cases in which people gamed the system and retired on giant pensions.
Ms. Fritz said she wanted to come up with a standardized way to compare retirement packages to guide the process. Her study compared the pensions and retiree health benefits of different types of state and local workers in California, as well as those earned by federal employees, and by workers at a sample of large companies, including Chevron, Cisco, McKesson, Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm and Safeway.
It also examined how California’s various state and local employees would fare under two proposals, one modeled after the federal employees’ retirement plan, and the other a straight 401(k) plan.
Aside from the teachers, many public employees in California would be worse off under the proposed changes, the study showed.
Pension comparisons are fraught with difficulty, in part because the benefits are paid out one check at a time over many years. The foundation tried to make its comparisons more meaningful by calculating how much each type of retiree would have to pay up front, if the retiree wanted to buy a total lifelong pension benefit from a hypothetical insurance company. Showing the present value that way underscored the tremendous, hidden value of early-retirement benefits, something city workers in California often get, but teachers, federal workers and company employees generally do not.
Police in particular benefit. A California highway patrolman who retires at 50 gets a state-paid benefit five times what a federal law-enforcement agent would get at that age.
Because the foundation is focused on balanced budgets, it excluded the employees’ own contributions to each type of retirement plan. That allows comparisons of just the part of the benefits that taxpayers, or the corporate employers, cover. Teachers in California make large contributions to their pensions, and once those were deducted, their taxpayer-paid benefits were eclipsed by those of city workers, who can not only retire much earlier but also contribute less.
The study also counted Social Security — at least the employer-paid portion of it — as part of each group’s total benefit. Public school teachers in California, like roughly half the nation’s teachers, do not participate in Social Security, so their pensions must stretch further. Police also usually opt out of Social Security.