Commentary: A fight for power in Sacramento tests boundaries of campaign finance law
Two recent developments may alter the power dynamic in Sacramento, potentially affecting the battle over control of the state’s public pension system.
First, the California Supreme Court is expected to take up an ongoing question of whether two members of the board of public pensions can continue on the job.
Lawyers on both sides of the issue have argued that the new rules on campaign spending by retired public employees apply to the case.
Second, voters could make Proposition 10, a ballot initiative introduced in 2007, the state’s next major campaign finance law.
When the state’s public pension system is in the hands of a Democratic governor, like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jerry Brown, it has a strong financial incentive to act in the governor’s interests and not to favor those who back the Republican candidates.
However, in an election when Republicans have a clear majority in the Legislature and when Democrats control the governorship and both houses of the Legislature, there are at least two major risks.
The first is that, in the long run, the state’s public pension funding system needs to be governed by an elected board to ensure the public’s interests are protected. Right now, the current system makes a mockery of the concept of public service.
Second, the issue in the case of retired school teacher Richard Schirmann, who wants to be re-appointed to the pension board, is whether the board has to continue operating because of the election laws.
The issue is important because the Supreme Court has left open the possibility that this case could eventually come before it.
The current pension rules set up the system to “cascade” all state employees to the state retirement system if they retire and leave pensions “undeposited.” In other words, if a state employee leaves the state and retires and his or her pension is not paid by the retirement system, they go with the public pension system.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger took office, he told public employees they were facing the “cascade system” unless they re-organized their work and pension fund structures to make sure they had a state retirement system to support them after they retire. Arnold promised to change the rules, to protect public services, to provide adequate funding to public employees and to provide adequate funding for pension benefits for current employees.
However, Arnold’s efforts were thwarted by the governor’s own appointees, who made