To win over voters who are undecided about his tax measure, Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown must first convince them that the state is prepared to use the money wisely. The pension reform measure lawmakers approved earlier this month helps him some, but he would take a step backward if he signs a bill to enhance death benefits for public safety officers.
The pension reforms are not nearly as robust as needed, but they are an improvement over the status quo. The governor said he will do more on the issue, and voters need to hold him to that commitment.
Of course, it does no good to roll back excessive public employee benefits approved in the past if the governor is unwilling to hold the line on future excessive benefits. To hold the line on spending, Gov. Brown will have to say "no" to the same labor allies he needs to help get his tax increase measure passed.
Assembly Bill 2451 is a real-world test of the governor's commitment to fiscal discipline. We respect the risks that police officers and firefighters face on the job and the hardships that their families endure. But the bill sponsored by powerful police and firefighter unions goes too far in expanding death benefits that are already generous -- imposing new costs on state and local governments.
It doubles the statute of limitations on job-related death benefits for firefighters, police officers and prison guards. Democrats and Republicans approved the bill despite strong opposition from cities and counties that complain they can't afford new obligations at a time when they are laying off police and firefighters because of budget troubles. Signing this bill would send the wrong message to voters who are weighing Proposition 30.
In a meeting with The Sacramento Bee editorial board, Brown refused to say how he would handle AB 2451. However, he suggested that he would be highly attentive to how voters might react to his bill signings.
"I am very aware that more benefits at a time we are trying to convince people we are dealing with our budget will carry a very heavy burden from my point of view," he said. "I am going to be more fiscally prudent than I normally am, and I am extremely wary of spending money in any domain in life."
By that standard, the governor has little choice. He needs to pull out his veto pen and reject AB 2451.