Now, they've got something on which to base their opposition: a study by CalPERS that suggests such a system may not be all it's cracked up to be.
The report released late Tuesday concludes that Brown's plan (at least in as much as a work-in-progress could be analyzed) would "lower retirement benefits for new employees and shift the risk from employers to employees."
To be clear, CalPERS experts caution in their 39-page report (PDF) that there are variables in their analysis that could shift the conclusions should they change. And so the report is fairly seen as a starting point for the discussion... even though it's already being pointed to by critics of Brown's plan as proof he's on the wrong track.
The analysis concludes that, in many cases, Governor Brown's plan would provide less than a 1% savings for the state when it comes to the retirement benefits of general employees. It estimates the savings to be higher (2%) for retirement benefits provided to school employees. And perhaps most notably, CalPERS' number crunchers believe Brown's pension reform plan could result in a 2.1% increase in the cost for new public safety hires (those who come in under the pension reforms of recent years and are now guaranteed less of their pay for retiring at age 55).
The real winners, according to this early look, would be local governments. The analysis says the governor's hybrid pension/401(k) plan would probably mean a larger savings for local agencies -- because their workers currently contribute less to retirement than do those who work for the state. And yes, that's why so many of the pension "outrage" stories across California are about the retirement deals being given to local government employees.
And, while not surprising (at least to those of us in the private sector), the CalPERS analysis reminds everyone that future government workers will face more risky retirement futures.
"The proposed hybrid plan is expected to result in a shifting of risk from the employer to members. The employer will see reduced risk in the form of a smaller, less volatile defined benefit plan. The member is expected to see an increase in risk given the defined contribution portion of their benefit is not guaranteed and exposed to investment volatility."
CalPERS says its report was crafted using existing assumptions about its own pension fund, including the current rate of return on its investment -- a number that, itself, is hotly debated.
The analysis was drafted for the Legislature as it considers Governor Brown's proposal (now in bill language form), and it will no doubt spark some spirited debate when the joint committee that's examining the Guv's plan reconvenes. But again, the politics here is worth nothing. After backers of a more restrictive pension reform recently decided to abandon their plans for a ballot initiative in 2012, there's some speculation that the pressure could be off of Democrats to adopt a tough change in the pension system. Democratic leaders have dismissed such speculation, but they admit that Brown's hybrid proposal is a tough sell.
The new report would seem to make that sell even tougher, perhaps, impossible... especially in an election year.