Backers of California pension overhaul change ballot language to focus on new hires

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SACRAMENTO, California — Backers of a proposed ballot initiative to cut pension spending for California state and local government employees said Monday that they were dropping a measure proposed in June because state Attorney General Kamala Harris found that current employees would lose constitutionally protected vested pension benefits, and they will instead pursue an alternative aimed at avoiding that pitfall.

Chuck Reed, a co-author of the measure and a former mayor of San Jose, said that Harris' finding didn't reflect his intent but the new version removes language that led her to that conclusion. The measure would still require voter approval for increased pension benefits for existing workers, defined-benefit plans for new hires and pension expenses for new hires that puts more than half the cost on taxpayers.

Reed and Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman, are pursuing a second measure that also limits pension expenses for new hires unless voters approve. Reed said they will settle on only one proposal after considering options with financial supporters.

Backers can begin collecting signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot after Harris issues her summary, which would appear on the ballot. They must collect 585,407 voter signatures to qualify for the ballot, a relatively low threshold based on turnout for the last statewide election that is expected to produce a crowded ballot topped by the U.S. presidential race.

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