While many state policy-makers have been talking about the growing and costly pension crisis for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, an often untold part of the story line is that a similar crisis is brewing at the municipal level.
Today, nearly four in 10 Pennsylvanians live in a financially distressed municipality, often tied to fire and police pension costs. Though cities such as York are on the front lines of the growing municipal pension crisis, full-service townships and boroughs are facing similar challenges. In York City, the data speaks for itself as our municipal pension plans are underfunded by close to $50 million dollars.
Unfortunately, decades-old municipal laws have become dated, inflexible and uncompetitive, and often prevent municipal leaders from approaching modern-day problems with innovative solutions. Simply put, uncontrolled costs eventually require layoffs, service cuts and/or tax increases. These options harm the very workers, residents and businesses needed to sustain and grow a community. No one wants to live, work or grow a business in an over-taxed, under-served, unsafe, and fiscally unstable community.
Enter our own York County legislator, state Rep. Seth Grove, R-York County. Nearly a year ago, I joined Rep. Grove as he set out to find a solution that would offer all municipalities in Pennsylvania the tools needed to rein in future pension costs, while protecting the pensions already earned by current and retired employees. Rep. Grove's legislation, House Bill 1581, does not offer pie-in-the-sky promises — it offers common sense and sound solutions that can help turn around financially struggling communities with full-service costs.
While it may not "pass the muster" for some, most recognize a change is needed, or the choice of finding other employment is imminent.
And now HB 1581 has gained the support of the House Republican Majority Leader, Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, who has recognized that municipal pension reform must be included in the overall pension reforms being debated at the state level. I commend both Rep. Grove and Rep. Turzai and ask that our York County legislative delegation and Gov. Tom Corbett take a serious look at this worthy proposal — not just for the sake of our cities, but for all classes of municipalities.
Kim Bracey is the mayor of York City.