SACRAMENTO -- San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed was cleared Tuesday to start gathering signatures for his statewide initiative aimed at cutting pension costs, but it will be weeks before supporters decide if they will even attempt to put it on the ballot.

It comes a day after Attorney General Kamala Harris issued the formal title and summary for the initiative, which would allow cities around California to renegotiate future pension and retirement benefits for public workers.

Both supporters and opponents had feared Harris would use loaded words that could lead voters down one path or another since her title and summary is seen on petition sheets and other official voter guides. But she kept the title vague: "Public Employees. Pension and Retiree Healthcare."

Chuck Reed at a press conference, June 2013.
Chuck Reed at a press conference, June 2013. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Each side -- Reed and a handful of mayors backing the plan, and union groups against it -- finally agreed on something, as they both expressed "disappointment" at Harris' description.

Supporters now have until June 5 to collect 807,615 signatures -- 8 percent of all registered voters -- to qualify for the November ballot, an effort that will likely cost millions of dollars to hire signature gatherers. After a fresh round of polls, they expect to announce by the end of January whether they will start collecting signatures, or delay their plans until the 2016 ballot.

The summary issued by Harris says the proposal would "eliminate constitutional protections" for public workers such as teachers and peace officers. And it says the initiative would allow government employers to cut benefits and increase worker contributions during hard times.


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Those details were mentioned too low for the unions.

"The title should have prominently noted the elimination or cuts to pensions and retiree health care that this measure authorizes," David Low, chairman of the opposition group called Californians for Retirement Security, said in a statement.

Reed called the summary bogus and maintains it would not take away public workers' constitutional rights.

"Voters deserve to have an accurate description of the initiative free from poll-tested words and phrases that confuse and distort the specific language of the initiative," he said in a statement.

The title and summary can sometimes be a key milestone for statewide initiatives.

In 2012, a different group pushing a pension effort said it had to abandon its plans to put its initiative on the ballot after receiving what it considered an unfavorable title and summary from Harris. In 2008, gay marriage opponents challenged then-Attorney General Jerry Brown's title for Proposition 8: "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry."

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.