California pension reform measure abandoned after court ruling

Fri Mar 14, 2014 6:26pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Backers of a ballot measure to cut California's public pensions, which was seen as a model for other states, abandoned their campaign to win voter support on Friday after a court ruling.

Chuck Reed, the Democratic mayor of San Jose, said he was ending his campaign to put the statewide measure on the ballot this November, but he did not rule out trying to re-launch his effort for the November 2016 election.

Reed's measure aimed to give California mayors the freedom to cut pensions already awarded to public workers, although not to touch benefits already earned.

The campaign was abandoned after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner rejected a lawsuit filed by Reed and other measure proponents against Kamala Harris, California's Democratic attorney general, for what they said was biased, union-friendly language for the voter initiative.

Under California law, the attorney general is tasked with writing the title and summary for ballot measures.

Unions, which had opposed Reed's measure, welcomed the ruling.

"We continue to believe that the bargaining table - not the ballot box - is the proper place to address the budget challenges facing our communities and state," said Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security, which represents 1.6 million state workers and retirees.

Reed persuaded 70 percent of voters in San Jose - California's third-largest city - to pass a pension reform measure in 2012. Unions sued in state court to oppose the initiative.

The San Jose mayor maintains that generous public pensions, in deals mainly struck before the 2008 financial crash, will further strain municipal budgets.

"Unfortunately, California's pension problems are not going away and will only grow larger in the coming years," Reed said.

(Reporting by Tim Reid; Edited by Ronald Grover and Ken Wills)

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