Cities are struggling with the same issues. In March, Newport Beach officials voted to give the lifeguard management association the benefit of "3% at 50" — meaning you can retire at age 50 and collect 3% of your final salary for each year you worked for the city.
City leaders had misgivings, but lifeguards argued that Newport's other public safety workers — police and fire employees — already get the benefit, as do most lifeguard agencies in Southern California.
Offering bigger benefits and earlier retirement, at least for public safety workers, has been a statewide trend, in part because the state legislature determines what benefit programs cities can join, Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau said.
"When some cities give 3% at 50, then that becomes very attractive to police officers and they're willing to jump ship," he said. "It puts other cities in a very difficult position — it's almost like you have to match it whether you want to or not."
The ballot measure aims to alleviate that upward pressure. Here's how:It would boost the age at which public employees could collect full retirement to 55 for police and fire departments, 60 for other public safety workers, and 65 to 67 for all other government workers.Pension benefits would be capped at about 60% to 70% of an employee's final salary. Backers of the ballot measure say this is more in line with private-sector benefits.The measure would cover all government employees statewide, including city, county and school district workers.As an escape clause, proponents included a provision that local agencies could increase employee benefits if two-thirds of voters agree.
Proponents must gather about 700,000 signatures from California voters to qualify for the ballot.
They could face opposition from public employee unions.
Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said he's still evaluating the measure, but he thinks it could undermine the work of a bipartisan commission appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger to review pension issues.
"We believe that it's an overreaction, and it's premature," Berardino said of the ballot measure.
ALICIA ROBINSON may be reached at (714) 966-4626 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.