Voters don’t blame workers for pension woes, new poll finds

California voters do not blame public employees for the state’s pension woes and 
are in no hurry to make steep cuts in the system, according to a new USC 
Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

A majority agreed with the statement that public workers “didn’t create the 
problem with the pension system” and that any solution must include adequate 
retirement benefits. When public workers were identified as “teachers, police 
and firefighters,” that statement had 51% support. Even when no occupation was 
given, nearly half — 47% — of respondents agreed.

Far fewer agreed with the statement that “we can’t continue to ignore this issue 
when our debts keep piling up” and that cuts must be made immediately. Only 38% 
agreed with that statement. When workers’ occupations were not identified, 40% 

California has one of the most troubled pension systems in the nation. This year 
it is spending $3 billion to help pay retirees’ pensions, and its largest public 
pension fund recently cut its forecasted investment returns, which will increase 
the burden on taxpayers. A recent study by the National Assn. of State 
Retirement Administrators found that pension costs eat up a larger share of 
California‘s  budget than of any other state except Alaska.

But the greatest effect is at the local level, where some cities have had to 
spend a majority of their payroll budget on retirees. A potential ballot measure 
to curtail pension benefits in California was dropped last month because its 
backers claimed that its state-mandated language, which cited firefighters and 
police officers, was biased. Some cities, like San Jose, are pushing ahead with 
their own local ballot initiatives to cut pensions.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed his own 12-point pension plan, which includes 
raising the retirement age to 67 for new workers and enrolling them in a partial 
401(k) program. But the Democrats who control the state Legislature have been 
cool to the proposal.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times 
polled 1,500 registered California voters from March 14 through 19. The survey 
was conducted by the Democratic firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in conjunction 
with the Republican firm American Viewpoint. It has a margin of error of 2.9 
percentage points.

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