Neither Mayor Chuck Reed nor his union opponents liked the way California Attorney General Kamala Harris worded the official description of a polarizing pension reform ballot measure, which on Monday was cleared for signature-gathering to place it on the November ballot.
The unwieldy title of the initiative: “Public Employees Pension and Retiree Healthcare Benefits Initiative Constitutional Amendment.” The description says that it “eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including teachers, nurses and peace officers, for future work performed.”
Unions say the phrasing doesn’t reflect the goal of the measure: “to slash the retirement benefits and retiree health care of current and future employees,” per David Low, head of Californians for Retirement Security.
Reed, on the other hand, says the language focuses on pension cuts without mentioning that it protects accrued benefits. The title, he says, “incorrectly claims that the initiative eliminates constitutional protections for vested retirement benefits for future work performed.”
Attorneys general have come under fire before for the way they word initiatives. Prop. 8 proponents sued then-Attorney General Jerry Brown for describing their measure as one that would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry instead of as restoring the one-man-one-woman definition of marriage struck down by the Supreme Court.
The wording could very well affect the outcome of a ballot measure at the polls. But the bigger blow for Reed may have been when a judge gutted the main part of a citywide pension reform by saying San Jose can’t cut retirement benefits for existing workers.