HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett has pushed hard for legislators to pass a bill that would reform the pension system for state employees, and several local lawmakers are on board with the plan.
However, Corbett's initiative doesn't have enough support in the Legislature, and no vote was taken on the matter before the $29.1 billion state budget for 2014-15 was passed late Monday night.
The pension plan would reduce future state and school employees' pensions to save more than $10 billion over 30 years.
Corbett said, “I will continue to work with the legislature toward meaningful pension reform. I am withholding signing the budget passed by the General Assembly while I deliberate its impact on the people of Pennsylvania.”
Corbett's plan to change the pension system would only affect new employees and would combine a defined-benefit pension system with a 401(k)-like program in which employees would make their own investment decisions.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-12th, said Corbett's proposal is a “small step in the right direction” but added that it doesn't have enough support to pass.
“The governor has been trying to get enough votes together for quite some time but he hasn't been successful,” Metcalfe said. “He's been calling people up to his office to try to get support but it doesn't look like he's been successful in that endeavor.”
Metcalfe said he would support the pension reform bill if it ever came up for a vote, but he noted that his State Government Committee in the House passed similar legislation last year.
Metcalfe said the new proposal “weakens” that legislation, although he still would support Corbett's plan.
State Rep. Dick Stevenson, R-8th, said legislators understand the “mounting financial obligation” facing the pension system. He added he would vote for Corbett's plan if it ever reaches the House floor because it is “the right and responsible thing to do.”
“Ignoring this issue and passing it off for another time is neither responsible nor is it practical,” Stevenson said. “To get a handle on these costs, we must take action immediately so that the brunt of the cost is not borne on taxpayers at the state or local level.”
State Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-40th, said he too supports pension reform because it is long overdue.
However, he added that it's been stressful trying to juggle the pension issue while also haggling to pass a budget.
“I support the governor's position on pension reform,” Vulakovich said. “It's something we truly have to do, and I am in full support of the position he is taking. But it's been a difficult year and everybody is under a lot of stress right now to come up with something we can all agree on.”
State Rep. Lee James, R-64th, said the state has a responsibility to change the pension system to honor promises made to retirees for decades.
“Public pension reform would save taxpayer money in the long run while also strengthening the durability of the retirement systems for the participants,” James said.
State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-10th, was one of the only local lawmakers to voice his displeasure with Corbett's reform.
He said the governor's plan is “pension reform in name only, as it does little to help our budgetary problems.”
“Just like the average family has to make the payments on their credit card debt, the state has to make the payments on its debt,” Gibbons said.
“No reform proposal, which only targets harsh benefit cuts to future workers and does nothing to affect the actual pension debt payments, will help solve Pennsylvania's pension problem.”