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Discussion continues regarding Governor’s Pension plan

07.29.13

JUNE 2013, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

Discussion continues regarding Governor’s Pension plan

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 1st- Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett solution for reducing the pension cost of state workers to free up money and put it back into programs that he slashed in previous state budgets is being criticized by labor organizations that represent workers in the system and others in the media.

Under Mr. Corbett’s plan the employee retirement funds would be weaken and eventually cost state taxpayers $170 million more a year and add approximately $5 billion to unfunded pension liabilities by 2019 and more afterward.

The public sector unions in Pennsylvania are battling with Mr. Corbett and conservatives in the state General Assembly as they attempt to cut retirement benefits.

Mike Crossey, the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which represents approximately 190,000 active and retired school teachers and employees in Pennsylvania, noted that the public employees of Pennsylvania and taxpayers did not create the pension problem.

Mike Crossey emphasized that teachers, nurses, and other public employees across the Commonwealth already pay for a significant portion of their pensions, and have made their contributions on time. The pension shortfall was caused by politicans who failed to make their appropriate contributions to the pension system.

The state caused the pension problem by increasing employee benefits during boom years while reducing school districts and government contributions to the pension fund.

Mr. Corbett linked pension cost cuts to restoring funding cuts to education that he has made over the past several budgets to get more school districts across the commonwealth to support his plan. Most recently the Abington Heights School Board president in Lackawanna County stated that teacher pensions are” devouring school revenue”.

“In reality, it is Covernor Corbett’s prior budgetary decisions that are the true cause of Pennsylvania’s budget problem. Governor Corbett made a conscious policy decision to provide more than $800 million in corporate tax breaks, including the capital stock and franchise tax and bonus depreciation credit, which cost the state $760 million, more than the projected pension debt owed in 2013-2014 fiscal year,” stated Mr. Crossey.

A recent report suggest there is a $19.7 billion unfunded liability of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System, which covers more than 100,000 active employees and provides for 100,000 retirees as well as their beneficiaries.

Mr. Crossey added that just two years ago public employees in Pennsylvania helped pass Act 120 to pay down the debt employers owe the pension systems.

Overall, in the past two budgets Mr. Corbett has cut more than $1 billion in education funds which has caused havoc on Pennsylvania school districts, forcing them to dramatically reduce or eliminate student programs and causing them to raise property taxes.

Act 120 was passed by the General Assembly in 2010 to prevent a 500 percent increase in 2012 of the government’s contribution to state and school employee pension plans.

The legislation lowered the amount a pension increased a year of employment from 2.5 percent of pay to 2 percent, and also raised the time of vesting from five years to ten years and made teachers wait until they are 65 years old to start receiving pension payments. Previously teachers could begin receiving benefits at 62 years old. The new rules applied to newly hired teachers.

Also, the legislation forces employees, the state government, and school districts to pay more into the funds when the market drops.