Did we all get suckered last week by the governor's office and the state Legislature on pension "reform"?
Within a 72-hour period, Gov. Jerry Brown released sketchy details, the 60-page bill was posted on the Internet, a committee hearing was held and the Legislature approved it.
We scrambled to decipher the highly technical and complex language. The Legislature and governor's office put out summaries that were incomplete and misleading. Outside experts had no opportunity for input.
It was an outrageous charade. A missing word here, an added clause there -- it didn't take much to change the meaning and effect. The stakes were high -- billions of dollars.
Yet, while the pension bill was sold as reform, it wasn't. It fiddled on the margins, a small down payment on a huge debt. The state has a pension shortfall of, conservatively, $257 billion. That averages $20,700 per California household.
The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest pension plan in the nation, has about $117 billion of the debt. Yet, by CalPERS' quickie analysis, released last week, the present value of the savings from the bill was, at best, $15 billion.
In other words, assuming all the savings were plowed back into paying down the debt (they won't be), the bill would at best reduce the shortfall by 13 percent.
We have no idea of the savings for other public pension systems in the state. There were no analyses released. The teachers retirement system put out an estimate with no backup information.
This was fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants legislating. Lawmakers had no idea what they were approving. Brown, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez simply said "trust us." Like lemmings oblivious to the consequences, legislators went along.
When this newspaper pointed out that a missing word created a loophole that provided new opportunities for pension spiking, the Legislature corrected it. But lawmakers and staff members viewed it as an annoyance rather than a symptom of a dysfunctional process.
Shortly before the vote, we noted that in many cases employees would not be required to equally share in the cost of the pensions, contrary to the claims of the administration. Nobody flinched.
It was full speed ahead. Details were insignificant. Everyone just wanted to claim the mantle of pension reformer. It was an abrogation of responsibility.
We're already hearing about other serious problems with the bill. If we find more -- and we expect we will -- we'll let you know.
We may never know whether they resulted from political manipulation or technical incompetence. We have our suspicions. Either way, this is what happens when a few people develop legislation in secret and lawmakers ram it through without meaningful public review.
Brown and legislators must explain how they justify this behavior. And Democratic members of the Assembly and Senate need to stop privately complaining about their leaders while publicly enabling them.
If they're not part of the solution, they're part of the problem.