Backers of Mayor Chuck Reed’s state pension reform initiative filed a lawsuit this morning to change what they call inaccurate ballot language published by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris. The writ petition, filed Thursday morning in Sacramento County Superior Court, asks the state to remove words that may bias voters against the measure.
The only recourse to change a ballot summary in California is in court. And since all signature-gathering to place the measure on the 2014 ballot will stop until the case is resolved, it likely won’t make it to voters for another two years.
“The ballot summary is just plain wrong,” San Jose’s Mayor Reed, the measure’s lead supporter, said in a statement. “It provides an inaccurate description of our initiative and misleads the voters as to what the measure does.”
He accuses Harris’ office of failing to give voters a “true and impartial summary” of the initiative and mimicking language, particularly the word “eliminate,” from a DC-based polling firm’s memo to its public employee union clients. Plus, Reed says, it singles out several professions held in high regard by the public—namely teachers, nurses and peace officers—that would prejudice voters.
“The lead sentence in the ballot summary incorrectly states that the initiative eliminates constitutional protections for employee pension and retiree healthcare benefits,” Reed says. “Our initiative simply does not eliminate vested rights for government workers. It protects the benefits that employees accrue as work is performed while giving government leaders the tools they need to negotiate changes to employees’ future unearned benefits once labor contracts expire.”
Of course, union-led opponents of the reform measure beg to differ—and they weren’t too happy with the way it was worded, either. Californians for Retirement Security said the phrasing doesn’t convey the goal of the initiative, “to slash the retirement benefits and retiree health care of current and future employees.”