Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett discusses pension reform as Melissa Brumgard looks on Friday afternoon.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett discusses pension reform as Melissa Brumgard looks on Friday afternoon. (Michael Tabb Photo)

Leroy and Brenda Walker have owned their 102-acre dairy farm in Paradise Township for 19 years. Over that time, their property taxes have more than tripled, from about $2,000 per year to more than $6,000.

Their profits have not grown to compensate.

At a roundtable discussion at the farm on Friday, Gov. Tom Corbett said their problems stem from unsustainable pensions for state employees — school employees in particular. It was Corbett's 11th meeting with Pennsylvania residents in recent weeks in an effort to push the state Legislature to address the issue.

His plan would involve decreasing pension benefits for new hires and having state employees earning $50,000 or more also invest in 401(k)-style accounts. In order to pass such legislation, he said he still needs more supporters in both the state House and Senate, even though his own party has a majority in both chambers.

He admits that his plan won't solve the problem, but he believes it will stop the state's unfunded liability from continuing to spiral.

"We're in a hole; we've got to stop digging," Corbett said. He added that the legislation is "a starting point," a first-step toward a long-term solution.

A rising problem: The pension problem has resulted in rising property taxes at the local level, the governor said.


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The state is $47 billion short of what it would need to cover future costs of its public pension plans, according to the Governor's Budget Office. The office estimates the number will rise to $65 billion within five years if nothing is done.

Corbett points the blame at legislators who, in 2001, chose to raise pensions for school employees, not only moving forward, but retroactively, back to the date of hire. He also blamed Democrats who he said have denied the problem exists, focusing on Tom Wolf, who is currently polling ahead of him in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Beth Melena, spokesperson for Tom Wolf's campaign, denounced the governor's solution as vague and "misleading," arguing that it will not actually solve the problem. She said Wolf supports Act 120, legislation Corbett signed in 2010 that reduced benefits for new school employees and raised the retirement age to 65, among other changes.

Teachers versus farmers: At Friday's discussion, State Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, said their solution must address inflated pensions for teachers. He says legislators have been unfairly influenced by the Pennsylvania State Education Association's lobbying efforts.

Melissa Brumgard gives tours on her parents' farm, where Friday's meeting was held. She voiced frustration with the fact that the government prioritizes some citizens' retirement benefits over others.

"Farmers are very hardworking people. Teachers are very hardworking people. It's not discrediting them or anything, but no one's giving us a pension. I don't have a 401(k) because my husband and I, we spent a lot of money when we were first married and we got in debt. So what did we do? We cut contributing to our 401(k)."

She said that while Friday's conversation did not necessarily reassure her that conditions will improve, she remains hopeful.

Corbett is continuing to travel around the state to talk with residents affected by high property taxes in hope that it will help spur the Legislature to take action.

"There is no silver bullet, other than great determination to fight our way through this," Corbett said.