Ted Soqui
Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, declined to take a position Sunday on a proposed ballot measure that would cut pensions for L.A. police officers and firefighters.

Whitman intends to tackle the state's pension woes by switching new employees to 401(k) plans. But she has said she would exempt public safety workers, and would protect their “defined benefit” pension plans.

That stance helped her win the endorsement of the L.A. Police Protective League. Last week, the group caused a stir when it released a voice mail from Jerry Brown in which someone — likely a Brown aide — can be heard calling Whitman a “whore.”

The remark stemmed from Whitman's protection of police pensions. On the recording, Brown can be heard asserting that Whitman had made a “secret deal” to spare police pensions in exchange for police union support.

The LAPPL has criticized Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to put pension reform on the March 2011 ballot.

Dennis Zine

Dennis Zine

Dennis Zine

Councilman Dennis Zine, who fired up the crowd at Whitman's town hall meeting in Van Nuys on Sunday, said the council is working on ballot language that would cut pensions from 90% of an employee's final salary to 70%.

“This has to be changed by voters,” said Zine, who retired after 33 years with the LAPD. “We in L.A. cannot sustain this.”

Whitman, who appeared at the town hall alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, declined to say whether she would support such a ballot measure.

“I'm gonna leave that to the city of L.A.” she said. “I do not want to get in the middle of the negotiations between the city of L.A. and their public safety workers.”

Whitman has not shied away from addressing other city issues, especially when it comes to bemoaning red tape. At Sunday's town hall, for example, she told supporters she met with a man who spent a full year just to get permits to open a pizza place in L.A. She has also complained regularly about how long it took to get approval from the city of San Jose to build an office building for PayPal.

Whitman said that the state's public safety employees should see their retirement age increase from 50 to 55. She also said they should have longer vesting periods and pay higher contributions toward the state pension fund. But she reiterated her view that they should keep their defined benefit plans.

“They've got to recruit the very best and the brightest,” she said. “They put their lives on the line for us every day.”

Also Sunday, Whitman declined to respond personally to the “whore” remark, other than to say, “It's a slur, and I'm not going to dignify it with a response.”

LA Weekly