Republicans 'disingenuous' to knock pension offer, Wolf says

Associated Press

HARRSIBURG — Republican legislative majority leaders are "disingenuous" to criticize a compromise offer on how to reduce Pennsylvania's long-term public pension debt when they have not made similar moves to end a seven-week-old budget stalemate, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday.

Negotiations are at a crawl in the budget stalemate, and major safety-net services advocacy groups including the United Way are asking Wolf and lawmakers to break the stalemate to approve stopgap funding and end growing service cuts for the needy, neglected and disabled.

For now, Republicans and Democrats are not discussing a stopgap human services funding bill, and talks are revolving around ways to cut Pennsylvania's long-term pension debt. Wolf's compromise offer to Republicans last week fell flat, with top GOP lawmakers saying that it falls well short of what they are seeking.

"It seems like I've made the concessions on everything, and I've been compromising and reaching out, trying to move and I've gotten nothing from the other side," Wolf said Tuesday during an interview on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA-AM. "So it's sort of disingenuous for anybody on that side to say I'm not moving enough. You can't negotiate with yourself, it has to be two parties and I'm trying to recognize the fact that we have disagreement, I'm trying to move and I'm not seeing anything on the other side except for that kind of posturing."

Republicans have accused Wolf of vetoing their entire $30.2 billion budget bill on June 30 to use the social services sector as "leverage" in budget talks. Wolf counters that the GOP's budget bill would have shortchanged human services.

Rather, he maintains that his $31.6 billion budget proposal rejected by Republicans would deliver significant new amounts of money to help wipe out budget-balancing funding cuts for human services enacted under Wolf's Republican predecessor, Tom Corbett.

"There's temporary inconvenience that goes along with (the budget stalemate) for some organizations and some people," Wolf said on KDKA-AM on Tuesday. "But my point is that if we don't have a good budget, then there'll be a lot of inconvenience for a lot of people for a long time."

The state House and Senate may reconvene next week in Harrisburg for the first time since July. Talks between Wolf and top Republican lawmakers resume Wednesday. Last week, Wolf offered a plan that his administration said would cut one-third of the approximately $50 billion debt in Pennsylvania's two major public pension plans for state government and public school employees.

A top Republican priority in budget negotiations is ending the traditional pension benefit for most future public school and state government employees by directing them into 401(k)-style retirement plans, although that alone does not necessarily promise long-term debt reduction. Wolf has balked at that.

Meanwhile, Republicans are refusing Wolf's request for a multibillion-dollar tax increase, primarily to improve public schools and wipe out a long-term budget deficit that has damaged Pennsylvania state government's credit rating.