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Public Support Is Low For A California Initiative To Cut Government Employee Pensions

A ballot initiative that would give government agencies in California more power to negotiate public employees' future benefits faces opposition from a number of mayors and low polling numbers.

Posted on December 18, 2013, at 3:04 a.m. ET

Only 14% of California voters support a ballot initiative that would give cities and public agencies the ability to negotiate employees' future retirement benefits, according to a Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll.

Proposed by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, the measure is meant as a proactive way for cities and agencies to reign in rising pension spending. "Any kind of changes will be difficult for our employees, but it's much better to ask our employees to adjust their future expectations rather than risk seeing their accrued benefits slashed, as has happened in bankrupt cities," Reed told NPR.

The poll found that 24% of voters said they were opposed to a constitutional amendment that allowed government agencies to reduce employees' retirement benefits, 20% said they were not sure how they'd vote, and 14% said they would vote against it. The remainder said they were "still considering" the issue.

"The fact that this initiative calls for the modification of retirement benefits only for years of services not yet performed makes little difference to voters," pollster Fred Yang said in a statement. "Moreover, even with a neutral reading of the ballot, this measure fails to garner over 36% of the vote in the initial trial heat."

The mayors of Anaheim and Vallejo have publicly supported the ballot initiative, while the mayors of Oakland, Cupertino, Santa Rosa, and 16 other municipalities signed a letter to Reed in November saying they were opposed to it.

Reed sponsored Measure B in San Jose last year, which cut city employees' future retirement benefits and passed by nearly 70%. Multiple lawsuits have been filed by city employees' unions concerning Measure B.

The poll of 801 Californians was conducted from Dec. 5–9 and commissioned by Californians for Retirement Security, a group that represents public employees.