Northeast Times

GOP officials laud governor’s pension reform efforts

We ap­plaud Gov. Corbett for tack­ling Pennsylvania’s pen­sion crisis, which is in­creas­ing our res­id­ents’ prop­erty taxes and di­vert­ing dol­lars away from the classroom to pay for large pen­sion ob­lig­a­tions. We thank the gov­ernor for stand­ing up for Pennsylvania tax­pay­ers and Pennsylvania chil­dren.

As Corbett travels across the state mak­ing his case for pen­sion re­form, much of the news cov­er­age has fo­cused on the so-called “rift” in the Re­pub­lic­an Party between the gov­ernor and the le­gis­lature on the is­sue of pen­sion re­form.

In speak­ing with our loc­al Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lat­ors, it is evid­ent that all of them un­der­stand the need for pen­sion re­form; some just dif­fer on the best ap­proach. 

The Re­pub­lic­an Party, like our com­munit­ies here in South­east­ern Pennsylvania, is made up of di­verse men and wo­men, each with their own unique policy pre­scrip­tions for the chal­lenges fa­cing our com­mon­wealth, in­clud­ing how to best solve the pen­sion crisis. That is not un­ex­pec­ted or un­usu­al.

What is un­usu­al is the fail­ure of our Demo­crat­ic friends to re­cog­nize the cost of do­ing noth­ing to ad­dress pen­sion re­form. Giv­en the clearly defined con­sequences of in­ac­tion, we would hope that some Demo­crats would join with Re­pub­lic­ans in im­ple­ment­ing ne­ces­sary re­forms. Un­for­tu­nately, that has not been the case, and these Demo­crats have largely es­caped cri­ti­cism for their fail­ure to be part of a last­ing solu­tion.

The com­plex­it­ies of pen­sion re­form, fu­ture pen­sion ob­lig­a­tion ac­tu­ar­ies and dis­cus­sions about the un­fun­ded li­ab­il­it­ies fa­cing the Pub­lic School Em­ploy­ees’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem and the State Em­ploy­ees’ Re­tire­ment Sys­tem are enough to make the eyes of even seasoned policy wonks glaze over. So, the fact that pen­sion re­form is not a top pri­or­ity for many Pennsylvania fam­il­ies is no sur­prise.

However, the health of the pen­sion sys­tem dir­ectly im­pacts edu­ca­tion fund­ing and prop­erty tax rates – two ma­jor top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion around kit­chen tables across the com­mon­wealth.

Over the course of the past four years, Corbett and the le­gis­lature have in­creased state fund­ing for K-12 edu­ca­tion from $8.9 bil­lion to an all-time re­cord-level of $10.5 bil­lion, an 18-per­cent in­crease.

Un­for­tu­nately, a huge chunk of that is be­ing used to pay for rising pen­sion costs for teach­ers and oth­er school em­ploy­ees. Ima­gine how much more money would be go­ing to our classrooms and be­ne­fit­ing our stu­dents if we could bring the state’s pen­sion crisis un­der con­trol.

Left un­checked, the prob­lem is only go­ing to get worse. Pen­sion ob­lig­a­tions out­weigh as­sets for Pennsylvania’s two state gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ee pen­sion sys­tems by a com­bined $47 bil­lion. Those un­fun­ded pen­sion ob­lig­a­tions are pro­jec­ted to in­crease to more than $65 bil­lion in the next five years. In the re­cently ad­op­ted $29.1 bil­lion state budget, more than $1.6 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money and oth­er rev­en­ue went to pay pen­sion ob­lig­a­tions. In oth­er words, $1 out of every $18 in state gov­ern­ment spend­ing goes to fund state pen­sions. State pen­sion pay­ments are pro­jec­ted to rise to more than $4.3 bil­lion an­nu­ally with­in the next three years if we do not act.

As the pen­sion crisis wor­sens, it means less fund­ing is avail­able for oth­er pri­or­it­ies like health and hu­man ser­vices, job train­ing, classroom edu­ca­tion and open space pre­ser­va­tion. The al­tern­at­ive — sig­ni­fic­ant tax hikes on Pennsylvania fam­il­ies and em­ploy­ers – would stunt our eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery.

To date, Demo­crat le­gis­lat­ors are play­ing polit­ics with Pennsylvania’s fu­ture. It ap­pears that the Demo­crat­ic House and Sen­ate lead­er­ship have de­cided that block­ing needed pen­sion re­form im­proves their elect­or­al chances this Novem­ber. We be­lieve their party lead­er­ship doesn’t want to give Corbett any le­gis­lat­ive vic­tor­ies that could boost his elec­tion pro­spects. In the end, it will be tax­pay­ers who foot the bill for their polit­ic­al games.

These Demo­crats claim to be for Pennsylvania fam­il­ies and gov­ern­ment pro­grams that provide as­sist­ance to those in need. Their fail­ure to re­cog­nize the need for pen­sion re­form makes these claims ring hol­low.

While we serve as Re­pub­lic­an Party chairs for dif­fer­ent counties in South­east­ern Pennsylvania, we do not be­lieve all Demo­crat law­makers are in­her­ently bad. In the past, some have shown a will­ing­ness to put what is best for Pennsylvania above party polit­ics. That is why we are call­ing on Demo­crat­ic mem­bers of the le­gis­lature in our com­munit­ies to work in a bi­par­tis­an man­ner with their Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues to get pen­sion re­form passed.

Pennsylvani­ans de­serve bet­ter than the par­tis­an polit­ics be­ing played by Demo­crat law­makers in Har­ris­burg. ••

This op-ed was sub­mit­ted by Bob Ash­er, Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee­man; and chairs Pa­tri­cia Poprik, of the Bucks County Re­pub­lic­an Com­mit­tee; Valentino Di­Gior­gio, of the Re­pub­lic­an Com­mit­tee of Chester County; An­drew Re­illy, of the Delaware County Re­pub­lic­an Com­mit­tee; Mike Vereb, of the Mont­gomery County Re­pub­lic­an Com­mit­tee; John Taylor, of the Phil­adelphia Re­pub­lic­an City Com­mit­tee; and Mi­chael Mee­han, of the Re­pub­lic­an South­east­ern Pennsylvania Caucus.

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