Campaign for Los Angeles pension measure suspended

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 26, 2012 3:04 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan suspended on Monday his campaign to put a measure before voters to overhaul the second-largest U.S. city's pension system.

Riordan concluded the campaign could not meet the deadline for gathering signatures to qualify the plan for the May 2013 ballot, spokesman John Schwada said.

Schwada said Riordan is reviewing options for the measure, including a potential effort to put it on the June 2014 city ballot.

"Rest assured that Mayor Riordan is actively looking at all the options available to him," the spokesman said.

Schwada said the campaign collected roughly 100,000 signatures since its launch on November 2, but determined it would not be able to gather another 200,000 or so to have enough valid voters' signatures by December 28 to qualify for next May's ballot.

"It's just a very difficult mountain to climb," Schwada said, adding that residents of California's biggest city are suffering from "election exhaustion" despite concerns over how much it spends on retirement benefits for its employees.

The cost of pensions for public-sector employees has become a major concern across the nation and Riordan has in recent years warned that cash-strapped Los Angeles risks bankruptcy due to its retiree expenses.

Los Angeles' annual contribution to its pension funds has grown to $1.2 billion from $220 million over the past decade, according to Riordan's campaign staff.

Riordan, a former businessman and lawyer turned politician, had aimed to put his measure to voters despite moves last month by Los Angeles' leaders to pare the city's pension expenses by raising the retirement age for new non-public safety workers to 65 from 55.

Los Angeles' leaders also approved increased employee contributions to pension accounts and new formulas to reduce pension payments.

Riordan aimed for more aggressive change that riled public employees unions, which quickly mobilized to counter his planned measure.

The former mayor proposed 401(k)-style accounts similar to private-sector retirement accounts that would replace traditional defined-benefit pensions.

Voters in San Diego, California's second-largest city, earlier this year approved a measure that puts nearly all new city employees into 401(k)-style accounts instead of traditional pensions.

Additionally, voters in San Jose, the state's third-largest city, overwhelmingly backed a measure in June aimed at reining in pension spending. Governor Jerry Brown and fellow Democrats who control the legislature followed with an agreement on some state pension reforms.

(Reporting by Jim Christie; Editing by Dale Hudson)