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Gov. Jerry Brown hinted to hundreds of California police chiefs on Tuesday that they may see their pensions curbed as the state grapples to close a $26.6 billion budget deficit -- a move Republican lawmakers have said they would like to see as part of any plan to ask voters to approve billions in tax extensions.
Brown opened his speech to the 34th annual California Police Chiefs Association with some light-hearted banter about retirement, but quickly became serious about the state's financial crisis. During the event, which was a tribute to the 11 law enforcement officers killed on the job in 2010, the governor repeatedly spoke of individual sacrifice for the good of California and of the need for government workers to lead by example.
"I didn't take my retirement at 50. In fact, if you want to stabilize this pension system, you need a lot more people working until they're 72," he said. "I know some of you might not be ready for that, but we have to deal with pensions. That's going to be part of the program and we do have some scarce resource problems but we shouldn't get too upset or nervous about that."
Brown advocated pension reforms during last year's campaign for governor, including requiring government employees to work longer and for a two-tiered retirement system in which newer employees get fewer benefits. His Republican opponent, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, had advocated a 401(k)-style system for most state workers, but not police and firefighters.
Brown is trying to get support for a budget plan that includes $12.5 billion in spending cuts and wants lawmakers to pass a budget by mid-March so he can call a special election in June to extend increases in the sales, income and vehicle taxes another five years. The taxes and a series of fee increases would bring in an estimated $12 billion.
The governor told the police chiefs that partisan bickering and an erosion of public confidence in elected officials -- particularly the Legislature -- have made it challenging to have the courage to do what is best for the state. Brown exhorted his listeners to "imbibe the spirit of the fallen officers" and talked about a "philosophy of loyalty" that requires public servants to put the welfare of the state ahead of partisan concerns.
Republicans have steadfastly said they will refuse to place a tax measure on the ballot, while many Democrats have balked at Brown's proposed deep cuts to social programs.
"Everyone in this room is a part of government and government is not held in high esteem. So what we have to do is act in such a way that we set the example, that we inspire, we make it so that people want to do what's right and that's what these fallen officers exemplify -- they gave their lives," Brown said.
"We do have our problems and we worry and whine and complain, but we also have to celebrate and exult and give of ourselves to this important task of building California anew."
Brown also said that police departments could suffer if his tax proposal is not put on the ballot or if it doesn't pass.
"Whatever problem you've got, just multiply by two and that's where we're going," he said.
Associated Press Writer Juliet Williams in Sacramento contributed to this report.