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The San Diego Union-Tribune
Feb 11, 2005 - 01:00 AM

by John Marelius, STAFF WRITER

Governor hits state pensions;

Brink's trucks are part of waterfront staging
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday rolled out a pair of Brink's trucks to symbolize what he contends is an out-of-control state pension system.

And to add to the symbolism, he did it in financially troubled San Diego, which has been battered by its own pension crisis.

"Right now, our treasury is like the armored cars right behind me -- the door's kicked wide open and the money's flying out and bleeding our state dry," the governor told a harborside news conference near Lindbergh Field.

The Brink's trucks could also symbolize Schwarzenegger's aggressive and controversial fund-raising drive to finance multiple ballot measures he plans to sponsor for a special election this fall.

It was no coincidence that after the theatrical news conference at an airport rental-car lot, the governor headed for Petco Park for a private luncheon in which he appealed to San Diego business leaders to back his "reform agenda."

Yesterday's event was one of several preliminary sessions around the state leading up to a series of big-ticket fund-raising events where tickets will cost up to $100,000.

"If anyone wants to help, we're happy to have them help," said Joel Fox, co-chairman of Citizens to Save California, an ostensibly independent committee set up to advance Schwarzenegger's political agenda, before the luncheon. "There's no price to get in the door. The price they must pay is they must listen to us speak to them."

Schwarzenegger has said he wants to raise $50 million to promote his ballot measure package through Citizens to Save California.

Two Democratic legislators appealed to the state Fair Political Practices Commission to restrict contributions to the $22,300 limit for candidates for governor.

"There is very little difference in a state official calling up a contributor and asking for a contribution to a ballot measure committee or his own campaign committee," said Assemblyman Gene Mullin of South San Francisco.

Fox contended that since opponents of the initiatives will not be bound by the limit, supporters should not either. "They're trying to cut down on our fund raising and clear the field for themselves," he said.

Schwarzenegger is expected to promote at least four ballot initiatives for a special election that probably will be called for November.

He has urged creating a 401(k)-style pension plan to phase out the state system of guaranteed pensions, automatic across-the-board state budget cuts when revenues lag, basing teachers' salaries on merit rather than tenure, and taking the power to redraw political boundaries away from the Legislature.

At his news conference, he said the state pension system is hemorrhaging red ink because of "sweetheart pension deals." He said the state pension obligation swelled from $160 million in 2000 to $2.6 billion this year.

The governor contended that switching to 401(k) plans for new state employees would ease the burden on taxpayers while continuing to ensure workers a secure retirement.

"The new plan will be fair. Yes. Will it be generous? Yes. Will it be gold-plated? No," Schwarzenegger said.

He noted that San Diego is beset by its own pension crisis and suggested his plan as a local remedy. Councilman Brian Maienschein made such a proposal earlier this week.

The movie star-turned-politician, being no stranger to theatrics, spoke in an unused rental-car overflow lot with two Brink's trucks behind him. Inside and outside one of the trucks were sacks with large black dollar signs painted on them.

After delivering his prepared remarks, Schwarzenegger strode to the truck, hoisted two of the bags and tossed them in.

"Got the shot?" he called to the photographers arrayed on the press platform.

Along with theatrics, the day's events apparently involved a fair amount of political gamesmanship.

On Wednesday, the California Nurses Association and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights announced they would protest the governor's budgetary policies outside Petco Park and buzz the event with a rented plane dubbed "Air Arnold."

Later in the afternoon, the governor's office announced its news conference would be 15 minutes earlier across town.

Outside Petco Park, about 30 protesters endured a steady drizzle to air their beefs with the governor.

Terri Bunting, an organizer for the California Nurses Association, objected to Schwarzenegger raising buckets of money from business after waging a campaign against "special interests" in the 2003 recall election.

"Meanwhile, he's calling nurses, teachers and students special interests," she said.

Nurses object to Schwarzenegger's decision to delay an increase in the nurse hospital staffing ratio to one nurse for every five patients.

Schwarzenegger insisted that patients are adequately protected and that the current ratio of one nurse per six patients is better than any other state.
Staff writer Jonathan Heller contributed to this report.

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