SACRAMENTO — Without a dissenting vote, the Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Californians a chance to vote down $3.3 million in windfall pension increases for former top state office holders.
The measure cleared the upper house and went to the Assembly, 31 to 0. If endorsed by the Assembly, the proposal would appear on the November election ballot and if ratified by voters would block huge pension increases scheduled for next January.
Under existing law, the pension hikes will be triggered by salary increases that will take effect Jan. 1 for the governor and other statewide officers. Former officeholders are in line for retirement increases because their pensions are linked to the current salaries of the people who now occupy their offices.
But unlike incumbents, the former officeholders benefit by a liberal cost-of-living factor that will give them pensions far exceeding the pay received by those now holding the jobs.
For example, the pension of former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown would jump from $62,314 a year to $107,880. The salary of Gov. George Deukmejian, now $49,100, is scheduled to go up to $85,000 next January.
U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, a former state controller, would get his $57,492 pension hiked to $98,076. The controller's salary, now $42,500, will go to $72,500 next year.
The pension of Harold (Butch) Powers, retired lieutenant governor, would go from $59,024 to $100,692, compared to the $72,500 the incumbent will receive.
Sen. Wadie P. Deddeh (D-Chula Vista), sponsor of the proposed constitutional amendment, called the scheduled pension hikes "unconscionable." A legislative analysis of the Deddeh measure estimates that $3.3 million in additional retirement benefits would be saved by the proposal.
Deddeh said he will not have to organize a big-money campaign to get the amendment passed because he expects little public sympathy for the big pensions.
"This is one constitutional amendment I won't have to raise a penny for," Deddeh said. "On its own it should get 90% of the vote. Who is going to oppose it, except maybe the recipients and their families?"
Cranston, who is up for reelection in the November election, is one recipient who will support the measure. Deddeh said Cranston called his office Thursday morning to say he endorsed the amendment. A spokesman for Cranston confirmed the call.
Deddeh said he must amend the state Constitution because the courts have held that pension benefits, once granted, cannot be taken away.
The proposed amendment would break the link between pensions and the salaries received by current officeholders. The amendment will say that pensions shall not be affected by changes in incumbents' salaries on or after Nov. 5, the day of the election.
Thus, pensions would be frozen at current levels, plus annual cost-of-living increases.
Only officeholders who served before 1974 would be affected by the proposal. Earlier laws repealed liberal cost-of-living escalators for legislators who served after 1966 and for constitutional officers who took office after 1974.