Sacramento Republicans back Gov. Jerry Brown's pension proposal

Throwing a political curveball, Republican lawmakers on Wednesday lined up behind Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to overhaul public pensions — and called on Democrats to do the same.

Echoing Brown's concerns about ballooning obligations to current and future retirees, they introduced a series of bills that mirror the 12-point plan the governor released last fall. So far, they noted at a Capitol press conference, Democrats have failed to heed Brown's call to put his proposals into legislation.

"Today, we are stepping up to the plate, showing Republicans are united behind the governor's plan," said Connie Conway of Tulare, leader of the Assembly's Republican caucus. "Now it's up to the governor to get the Democrats on board."

Democrats countered that they were doing their part to evaluate Brown's plan. They are reviewing his proposal in a bipartisan committee, which is set to hold its final meeting next week before offering recommendations for pension-related bills.

"Just having a press conference doesn't mean you have any bill of consequence," said Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Gardena), co-chairman of the committee. "There are no shortcuts on this. We are trying to be thoughtful and measured so we can come up with real good policy."

Brown was out of state Wednesday, traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend the winter meeting of the National Governors Assn., but his office shrugged off the GOP support.

"We will continue to work with the Legislature to enact serious reforms," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in a statement.

The governor's proposals would require public employees to pay more toward their retirement benefits and would cut benefits for new hires. They have landed with a thud in the Democrat-dominated Legislature and rankled Brown's allies in organized labor, who represent most public workers.

Both the California Public Employees Retirement System and the state's nonpartisan legislative analyst have questioned the plan's projected savings.

On Wednesday, a coalition of public-employee unions expressed doubt that Republicans really want substantive changes in California's public pension system, contending that their backing was more political posturing than genuine support.

"We're more likely to see a unicorn on the Capitol grounds than Republicans supporting the governor on any issue," said Steven Maviglio, a spokesman for Californians for Retirement Security.

Still, observers said the move allowed Republicans to put pressure on the opposing party after a year in which Brown portrayed the GOP as obstructionist.

"Republicans in Sacramento are anxious to show the public that 'no' isn't the only word that they know," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman. "This tosses the question of pension reform squarely into the Democrats' lap."

Last year, Republicans pushed some of the same ideas in budget negotiations with Brown, but the talks fell apart. The governor had hoped to win GOP votes for his tax plan in exchange for changes to the pension system.

At the time, Republicans said Brown's proposals didn't go far enough. On Wednesday, GOP leaders said the dynamic had changed.

"There's no strings attached to this," said state Senate minority leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). "It's just good government reform needed in pensions, and we're willing to help that come about."

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