Gearing Up for Pension Battle Royal

Orange County's GOP Chairman Scott Baugh next week hopes to gear up an army of elected officials across the county that will battle organized labor at every level of local government over pension issues.

OC labor leaders are already fighting back, sending out letters today to every elected official in Orange County warning them that attending next week's planned "Pension Boot Camp" for elected officials could be seen as confrontational.

It's just another sign that this year's annual budget negotiations across Orange County's cities and special districts will be extra hot this year and feature significant political pressure to introduce 401K-type retirement plans in the public sector.

In 2010, Baugh stoked the anti-pension fires with his issuance of the "Baugh Manifesto," which required any candidate seeking the Republican endorsement not to take any union money.

During the November elections, the pension issue played out prominently in local elections, specifically in Costa Mesa and Irvine.

Next Thursday, Baugh plans to unveil the next challenge, issuing battle orders to what organizers expect to be about 400 attendees at the Hyatt Regency in Irvine.

The event is billed as non-partisan and co-sponsored with the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. Other main sponsors include the California Independent Voter Network, Governing Magazine and the Pacific Research Institute.

The event, much like the issue, is politcally charged.

In a December 2010 email sent out to GOP Central Committee members, Baugh said the hope for the boot camp is to educate locally elected officials (often volunteers and part-time office holders) on how to successfully negotiate against public employee unions on pensions.

"There is simply no excuse to vote on a contract for public employees that does not contain reforms sufficient to put our fiscal houses back in order," read the Dec. 20, 2010 email sent out by Baugh.

Looking over the agenda for the all-day session, it looks like taxpayers could expect many more proposals for hybrid 401K/pension plans at the local level as well as plenty of discussions about lawsuits and even bankruptcies.

That's the kind of agenda that gets the attention of labor leaders.

County officials have already spent more than $2 million on a lawsuit seeking to nullify retroactive pension benefits given to deputy sheriffs in 2001 that will cost an estimated $187 million.

That battle played out just this week at the county supervisors weekly public meeting when Jack Dean (a board member for the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility) urged supervisors to appeal their lawsuit to the state Supreme Court.

He spoke just after Wayne Quint, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff's urged supervisors to drop the lawsuit calling it a distraction that would hamper future negotiations.

Supervisors voted to appeal their lawsuit on a 4-1 vote with Supervisor Janet Nguyen (a Republican) dissenting.

Friday the Orange County Employees Association sent out a warning letter to several hundred elected officials throughout the county criticizing the upcoming conference as jingoistic.

"The clear purpose of the program is to not to stimulate reasoned debate but rather, as its title suggests, to indoctrinate you to destroy public employee defined benefit retirement plans," read the letter signed by OCEA General Manager Nick Berardino.

The letter goes on to warn that OCEA will be responding to issues raised at the conference next week. It calls for negotiation instead of lawsuits and points out the recent savings from a series of successful negotiations with the county on pensions.

It also details how in recent years the union has agreed to higher employee contribution to their pension plans, collaborated on a restructuring of the county's retiree medical plan that will lead to significant reductions in the county's unfunded liability, and have already created a hybrid 401(k)-like plan.

In his December 2010 email, Baugh disputed the allegations that the event was slanted, writing, "the Boot Camp is not an OCGOP sponsored event. He pointed out that former Senator Steve Peace, former Assemblyman Joe Nation, and Marcia Fritz are Democrats.

-- NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.

 

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