Sunday, July 13, 2014

New legislators must tackle crisis

February 19. 2013 9:05PM
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Pennsylvania taxpayers are facing a fiscal cliff all their own.

The Corbett Administration last week released a report warning of the looming public pension crisis -- financial obligations that threaten to drive taxes up, drain funding from other programs and wreak havoc with the economy, according to The Associated Press.

The State Employees' Retirement System and the Public School Employees' Retirement System are unfunded to the tune of $41 billion. This fiscal year, the state is contributing about $1.1 billion. That's expected to double next year and exceed $5 billion by 2019.

Gov. Tom Corbett says he plans to propose a fix in his coming 2012-13 budget proposal -- essentially reining in benefits for current employees to a more reasonable level moving forward.

Corbett expects legislators to sign on to a plan that not only cuts some of their constituents' retirement incomes, but their own as well.

Let's not forget how we got into this mess.

State lawmakers in 2001 gave themselves an outrageous 50 percent pension increase, allowing some career politicians to retire at almost full pay. They added the teachers and state workers to make the move more palatable, giving them a 25 percent increase in pension benefits.

A deal reportedly was worked out with then-Gov. Tom Ridge: He wouldn't veto the bill if the lawmakers gave him the budget he wanted.

No one gave a whit then about the taxpayers who would have to foot the bill.

Why should we think anything will be different with this class of lawmakers?

Hopefully, the answer is that they recognize what a complete disaster the move was, one that has led the state to the brink of financial disaster.

Unfortunately, even if they work up the political courage to tackle the issue, they likely won't have the final word. Courts in the past have ruled benefits for current employees can't be reduced.

It would be up to another court to decide if he's right, because the unions representing these approximately 800,000 public employees will surely fight any such effort.

That doesn't mean the Legislature shouldn't try.

The York Dispatch

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