President Biden worked for months to get his $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Now he’s holding back $12 billion of that money from California over an obscure public employee pension rule.
Here is a sentence you don’t expect to read when Democrats are in power both in California and Washington, D.C.: President Biden is withholding giant amounts of federal money from California public transit because the state’s public-employee pension system is apparently not paying people enough. Or more specifically, as the Chronicle explains, $12 billion in public transit funding is in limbo because of a disagreement between the federal government and the state of California over a nine-year old revision to a public pension law.
As our old friend LAist puts it, “How Much Federal Funding Will California Get For Public Transit? Right Now It’s $0.” We expected this kind of thing from Trump, but… from Biden? And because public employee pensions aren’t generous enough?
The dispute here is caused by a 2013 change to the California public pension law called the Public Employees' Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) that essentially trims the pensions of anyone whose employment start date was prior to January 1, 2013. Those whose pension deals were in place before 2013 are considered “classic members,” but there are “compensation limits on members” who started after 2013.
Biden’s Department of Labor ruled last week that this is a violation of labor rights, according to the Sacramento Bee, because the changes were not the result of collective bargaining. Therefore the Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) is withholding $9.5 billion that was slated for California public transit in Biden’s infrastructure bill, plus another $2.5 billion in grants for public transit from Biden’s March stimulus package.
Governor Gavin Newsom sent a pretty scathing letter to Labor Secretary Mary Walsh on the matter.
“California objects in the strongest possible terms to the premature and inappropriate effort to unilaterally implement OLMS’s deeply flawed decision pending federal judicial review,” Newsom wrote. “Withholding billions of dollars in crucial funding on the basis of a nine-year-old state law, while California wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic, does great harm and injustice to the people of California.”
The “Dems in disarray” storyline is an overused and inaccurate trope, but JFC, this is some next-level tripping over shoelaces of unnecessary infighting. Democrats claim to love public transit, they claim to love funding infrastructure, and claim to love unions. They control the executive seat, the senate, and House/state assembly in both California and Washington, D.C. If they can’t sort out some microscopic disagreement on public employee pensions, then every transit improvement project in the state will be at risk of the bickering that has paralyzed the high-speed rail project.
Image: WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks before signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the White House November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. The $1.2 trillion package will provide funds for public infrastructure projects, including improvements to the country's transportation networks, increasing rural broadband access and modernizing water and energy systems. (Photo by Kenny Holston/Getty Images)