Q&A: Antonio Villaraigosa on Immigration, Healthcare and Collaborative Pension Reform

Antonio Villaraigosa has a sharp memory.

When the gubernatorial candidate called me up last week, he detailed to me what he liked about a blog post I’d written about him four months earlier—as well as what he didn’t. He opined that I hadn’t provided the full context for one of his quotes, which was probably a fair point. And he remembered the exact part of the quote I had left out.

In a field with six major candidates for governor, Villaraigosa—who once served as the state assembly speaker and recently secured the endorsement of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo—is locked in a dead heat with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Villaraigosa spoke to us about immigration, healthcare and balancing budgets.

If you were governor right now, how would you respond to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against California over its immigration policies?

I’d do what Gov. Brown did. I’d say that you’re not welcome in our state when you misrepresent what we’ve done in California. There’s nothing in the California Values Act that says if people commit violent crimes, they won’t go to jail. They will go to jail. They are going to jail.

The biggest reason [Sessions] came to California is for almost a year now he has been under almost a weekly assault from Donald Trump, criticizing how he’s carried out his duties as an attorney general. He’s struggling, fighting to keep his job, so he came here to California to curry favor with his boss.

You’ve advocated for creating a public option for healthcare. How is that a better than trying to build a single-payer system from scratch?

First of all, I supported universal healthcare my entire life. SB 562 is legislation that essentially articulates the goals of a state-paid-for healthcare system that would end Medicare and Medical as we know it; eliminate all insurance-based healthcare plans, including Kaiser; require a federal waiver from Donald Trump, who wants to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid; and cost at least $200 million, assuming you could suspend Prop 98. And you’d have to suspend it each year, and you’d have to pay back to community colleges the money that would have gone to them. So it’s really a $400 million price tag. So I’ve asked Gavin Newsom, who’s tripled down on SB 562, to debate me on this issue.

The number one issue for the next government is to protect the ACA. In California, we need to do the following: One, restore the individual mandate at a state level. Two, we need to focus on prevention to a much greater degree. Three, we need to look at best practices here and around the country—Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser—where we can adopt cost-containment measures, to drive down the spiraling cost of healthcare. It’s not just a public option. It’s a public option, along with the exchange, along with what we currently have right now.

You paid fines in 2011 for ethics violations for accepting free tickets to high-profile events during your time as mayor. How can you convince voters that you have the ethical standards to be governor?

Before I was mayor, everybody on the powerful commissions—the airport commission, the port commission, the planning commission, community redevelopment—mayors used to put people in those positions that raised money for them. I signed an executive directive my first day in office prohibiting my appointees on any commission, including those powerful ones, from being able to raise money or contribute to the mayor.

What I was fined over was an issue that, prior to me, no one had ever been fined for. In my case, if I went to a game, a concert, and they gave me tickets, I would have to report them, and I always did. I was speaking at all these events. At every one of these events, I was speaking. Only once in a great while did I actually stay at those events.

Some local cities are facing a budget shortfall and has announced a quarter-cent sales tax to support its general fund. One growing cost is its pensions. How did you cut pension costs as mayor?

We were facing a recession that was the worst since the 1930s. Many people said we were on the verge of bankruptcy. I said, “Not on my watch.” I was going to have to lay off thousands of employees. I worked with our unions. They wanted me instead to do an early retirement. We didn’t have the money for it, so we worked together and got current employees up from six percent to 11 percent. We did it working with our unions. We almost doubled the size of their pension contributions, but I did it working with them.

This article was originally published by the Santa Cruz Good Times, San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister paper. For more on the gubernatorial race, check out our Q&A with Gavin Newsom.


  1. Yet, the City of Los Angeles faces the largest municipal pension funding gap, measured in absolute dollar terms.. According to the city’s 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Los Angeles’ Net Pension Liability totaled $8.2 billion. Curiously, this number does not appear on the city’s government-wide balance sheet (called a Statement of Net Position). Instead, the $8.2 billion is reported as part of L.A.’s long-term liabilities, resting in the footnotes of the city CAFR at pages 133 and 141.

    But the city’s pension debt is actually even worse than this reported $8.2 billion. Drilling down further into the CAFR, we find that the pension liability data is based on actuarial valuations from 2015. Actuarial valuations of the City of Los Angeles’ three pension systems for 2016 were not available at the time the city’s CAFR was prepared, so accountants relied on prior year data. However, since the CAFR was released, all three Los Angeles pension systems have published their 2016 actuarial reports. Thus, we can get a preview of what the pension debt will look like when L.A. updates its CAFR.

    The actuarial reports as of June 30, 2016 show that the combined pension debt from the public safety pension plan, the city employee pension plan, and the utilities employee pension plan have grown to almost $10.3 billion, as shown in the following table.

    Plan Net Pension Liability – Funded Ratio – Discount Rate
    Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS) $ 5,615,666,914 67.8% 7.50%
    Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension (LAFPP) 2,461,132,383 87.4% 7.50%
    Los Angeles Water and Power Employees’ Retirement Plan (WPERP) 2,191,394,583 82.2% 7.25%
    Totals $10,268,193,880 79.2%
    Source: 2016 Actuarial Valuation Reports published by LAFPP, LACERS and WPERP.

  2. > The actuarial reports as of June 30, 2016 show that the combined pension debt from the public safety pension plan, the city employee pension plan, and the utilities employee pension plan have grown to almost $10.3 billion, as shown in the following table.

    TRANSLATION: There will be a lot of public employees in California who will be getting an apologetic note with their retirement pension check:

    “Sorry, we’re a little short this month. We spent you pension money to buy some votes a couple of years back. You DID want as to get reelected, didn’t you?”

  3. So basically Villaraigosa is a Jerry Brown yes man? Does he have any views or opinions of his own or does he just base his comments on recent public poll info and (WWJD) what would Jerry do?
    Always enjoy those providing misinformation on pensions with their graphs and cartoon like charts. Maybe time to find a source other than the Internet or reaching into deep cyberspace to attempt to confirm your opinion(s). For future reference: combined pension debt refers only to the debt that would occur if every public employee retired today and among other things, not accounting for those who are/were retired and have moved on to a better place in the great unknown.

  4. I personally have worked for one of “those” government agencies for over 20 years. While I have been a “union” employee all that time in various positions, I am in no way very supportive of what my union has done, the people that have run it, their constant corruption, favoritism, and their misdeeds. That being said, my upper and middle management, some also union members, have been much worse. But to blame line level employees for pension problems is ridiculous when you see how badly your tax payer money is spent by those in charge, especially on themselves. The complaints for pension reform come from ONLY those without one. Let’s see how they would like their 401k or stock options for their retirement reduced or taken away. How can a person take a job, work 20 years and then be told, “oh guess what, you are not going to get the money you earned”. You without a pension, think about someone telling you that with your over-valued intangible “funny” money you have been “awarded” by working for a corporation that taxpayers have given breaks too also. I will tell you one thing I have seen the last few years, “us” future pension receiving people who mostly cannot afford to live in this over-priced area and have done the jobs you are too good for, have about had it. Let’s see how you would fare without Fire, Police, Transit, and a myriad of services you have taken advantage of but now don’t want to pay for.

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