Despite defeat for a hotly contested ballot measure that sought to
end traditional public pensions in Phoenix, a fight which drew
millions of dollars in outside money, Republican gains in some state
houses and governors' mansions mean the battle over public pensions
will likely intensify.
Defenders of public pensions say they will be particularly focused
on Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where they expect moves to reform
pensions will gain steam after Republican gains on Tuesday.
"This fight is not going away," said Jordan Marks of the National
Public Pension Coalition, a national union-funded group that seeks
to protect public pensions. "There are a number of states, including
Colorado and Nevada. We are looking at next year."
Paul Jacob, a libertarian whose Virginia-based Liberty Initiative
Fund gave $15,000 to the Phoenix measure and who has given over
$200,000 to efforts in Tucson and Cincinnati to reform pensions,
"The cost of public pensions is a serious problem across the
country. We are going to see these fights again and again. This is a
policy battle between folks who want to be fiscally responsible and
unions who want to get what they can."
Reformers, such as Jacob, believe the pensions promised to many
public workers have not been properly funded and pensions are
crippling budgets. Union defenders say most workers receive small
pensions and are being unfairly blamed.
In Colorado, three pension studies mandated by law arrive in the
state house next year. One looks at switching pensions from the
traditional defined-benefit structure to a defined-contribution
system, more like a 401(k)-style retirement system in the private
Control of the Colorado state Senate hung in the balance on
Wednesday, with votes still being counted and hoping to gain power.
The NPPC's Marks said Colorado was high on their agenda next year.
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In Nevada, Republicans wrested control of both the state assembly
and senate from Democrats. Lawmakers reconvene in February.
A Republican bill to switch Nevada's pensions to a hybrid system was
killed by Democrats in 2013. Analysts expect Republicans to
reintroduce the measure next year.
In Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, the state treasurer who spearheaded
pension reform measures in 2011, was elected governor despite union
opposition. Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker, an avowed enemy of
unions after taking them on in 2011, was re-elected.
In California, an effort to get a measure on the 2016 ballot that
would give local governments more leeway to cut public pension plans
will also be renewed, according to the outgoing mayor of San Jose,
Chuck Reed, the measure's main proponent and a rare Democratic
advocate for pension reform.
Victory for Reed's successor in San Jose, Democrat Sam Liccardo,
another vocal pension reformer, means a fight between police and the
city over retirement benefits will continue unabated.
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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