There, right before lawmakers' very eyes, Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday kidnapped education funding in the state Capitol.

What does he want for its return?

Public employee pension reform.

And if his demand isn't met, the governor might have to do some cutting.

Rather than the meager increase Corbett proposed in his 2013-14 budget presentation, schools could actually receive less in this budget.

Corbett did not ask for a fast getaway car, but he might wish he had come summer, when the state spending plan must be approved.

That's because as necessary as pension reform is, it's by no means a sure thing. And even if the Legislature gets on board, any change is sure to be challenged in court.

It could be years before it's settled.

That means lawmakers will have to make up for the $175 million in anticipated pension savings Corbett included in his budget.

The governor and his administrators have suggested that money might have to come from education funding if he doesn't get his way.

As it is, Corbett is proposing a $90 million increase in education spending, this after nearly $1 billion in cuts over the past two years.

Most agree Pennsylvania must change the way it funds retirements for public employees and teachers. The system is simply unsustainable.

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.


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Corbett proposes reining in benefits for current employees to a more reasonable level moving forward.

It's always important to point out one of the main reasons we're in the mess in the first place -- and it's not the fault of public employees (at least not those who aren't state legislators).

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.

In the long run, fixing the pension systems would benefit school districts, which also are required to contribute to the plans.

But districts' state education funding shouldn't be held hostage to Corbett's demands for reform, which could be a long process with no guarantee of success.

If lawmakers do need to find an extra $175 million by June 30, we suggest they target the healthy business tax cuts, which, as always, Corbett has included in his budget.