Governor Speaks on Pension Reform

Thank you.

I am pleased to be joined here today by our great leaders from local government and public safety and I am honored to be joined by the family members of courageous Californians who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.

As a private citizen and as Governor, I have always stood shoulder to shoulder with the brave men and women who serve the cause of public safety. To me, there is absolutely nothing more important than public safety and being the son of a police officer, I value the contributions made by California's police, firefighters and public safety professionals.

That is why I am troubled by the misconceptions surrounding the pension reform initiative.

This reform is about pension costs - period.

In the year 2000, our pension obligation was $160 million dollars. Now, it is $2.6 billion. This is a 1600 percent increase over the past five years.

Clearly, our costs are out of control, and that diverts the people's money away from vital programs like transportation, education, healthcare and fighting crime.

Now I have always said that I am the people's Governor, which means that I will listen to the people. And that is exactly what I have done. I have spoken with my good friends in public safety and local government. Many of them are here today with me and I want to thank them for that.

They have shared with me their concerns that the pension reform proposal could affect the death and disability benefits.

I do not want the pension reform debate to be clouded by worries surrounding this issue.

I have always been on the side of our California heroes who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. And I have always been on the side of the families who have lost their loved ones.

And there should be no doubt that they will be protected.

Over the last few weeks, I've spoken with Assemblyman Keith Richman, the author of our pension reform proposal in the legislature. Keith and I have decided to work together with leaders in local government and public safety to craft new initiative language that makes it absolutely clear that the families of every cop, firefighter and public safety professional lost in the line of duty are protected in our pension reform plan.

Even though our signature drive has been very successful and we have gathered 400,000 signatures, I think it is better to improve the language and put our plan on the June 2006 ballot.

While this will be a delay for our initiative, I am hopeful that refining the language to protect death and disability benefits will spark a whole new fresh start in the legislature.

Many of the legislators in both parties have come to me privately and told me they want to find a bipartisan solution to this problem, the problem of our state's exploding pension costs.

I am taking them at their word. I am ready to talk and negotiate with them. And I am giving them the extra time they ask for.

But should we not be able to reach an agreement in this building, then they should understand that our pension reform proposal will go to the ballot in June 2006. And we will win because that's what the people demand.

And like the pension reform, the other parts of my reform plan - budget reform, education reform, and redistricting reform - have very strong support and are gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures.

The legislators must act soon for if they don't, the people will. And I will lead them to reform at the ballot in November.

This is what I am fighting for.

I will not stop. I will not slow down. And I will not give up until we restore the great promise of California.

Thank you.