T he message from Gov. Tom Corbett was sent out to "the People of Pennsylvania" in the form of an op-ed piece that was published in Tuesday's York Dispatch.
I assume that means all of us.
Especially those of us who pay taxes to support our state and local school districts, in particular the pensions we pay state employees, lawmakers and teachers.
Since it was updated in 2001, when our well-paid state lawmakers adjusted their own pensions upward by an unbelievable 50 percent and gave remaining state workers and teachers a 25 percent increase, it's been a budget killer.
And it's going to get worse -- a lot worse -- before it gets better. In 20 years, it'll eat up 12 percent or more of the state budget.
Corbett says he recognizes that fact. And he's determined to do something about it.
I say hooray for Corbett.
I also say good luck to him.
Because this pension deal has been staring taxpayers in the face for more than 12 years now, and no one seems to have come up with a solution to it.
For his part, Corbett at least acknowledges there is a problem. The man knows a crisis when he sees one.
And his solution, while about eight years late in coming and $40 billion short, is at least a step in the right direction. The reason it's a step in the right direction is it creates an environment where state employees, lawmakers and teachers finally would be operating within the same pension environment as all the rest of us.
Naturally, they like the defined benefit plan they now have. And why not? If I had it, I'd like it, too. It guarantees public employees a specific benefit when they retire, even if the retirement fund has done poorly in its investments.
Not only are taxpayers required to fend for themselves when planning for their own retirements, they also are forced to make up the shortfall in the two public pension systems when they come up short.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are lucky to have any pension plan at all. And those of us who do have one, it's likely to be a 401(k) plan where pension payout is determined entirely by the success of the investment.
It's called a defined contribution plan. Retirement benefits are determined by employee and (sometimes) employer contributions, plus the return on whatever investments they've chosen.
It's iffy. Up and down, according to the stock market. And when it goes sour, no one's picking up the slack for us.
No wonder state employees, lawmakers and teachers are wary of it.
Still, I think there's merit in a good-for-the-goose-good-for-the-gander philosophy. That applies here.
Corbett's plan is to require that all "new" state and public school employees be enrolled in a defined contribution plan, rather than the old defined benefit plan.
Which is all well and good when it comes to all future employees of the two pension systems, but it still hangs taxpayers out to dry when it comes to those already employed as lawmakers, teachers and state workers.
They get a free pass on this craziness.
To make things worse, two independent actuarial studies -- if they're accurate -- are said to show that proposals to shift new employees to 401(k)-type plans would still cost taxpayers in this state about $50 billion.
That's no improvement at all.
I don't see this as a plan taxpayers can live with. And I'm thinking the old plan isn't one we can live with, either.
Legal minds -- people a lot smarter than me -- seem to think there's no way out. They think the law (or the state constitution) prevents anyone from revoking the improvements to the two state pensions that were approved in the middle of the night by the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001.
But I wonder what would happen if the state simply didn't have the money to put into these pension funds? I wonder what would happen if taxpayers put their feet down and refused to pay more taxes into these pension systems?
I wonder what would happen if the state were forced to declare bankruptcy just to clear the decks on this pension mess?
Silly, you say. The state can't afford to do that.
But can state and school district taxpayers afford to make up the $47 billion pension debt that existed at the end of 2012? Or the $65 billion pension debt predicted by 2018?
Can every household in this state afford to pay its share of the pension debt -- $13,000 each -- to just break even?
I don't think so.
So thanks, Gov. Corbett, for thinking of us.
But your plan won't cut it.
It amounts to placing a Band-Aid on a scab we've been picking for a dozen years. And the bleeding keeps getting worse.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.