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State pension watchdog reopened under court-approved deal

Greg Gross
505-5433/@ggrossyd
  • Public Employee Retirement Commission was closed by Gov. Tom Wolf in February
  • Shortly after, GOP Reps. Seth Grove and Stephen Bloom Wolf to get PERC reopened

A state pension watchdog agency shuttered by Gov. Tom Wolf in February will temporarily reopen under a court-approved agreement between the governor and two representatives.

State Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland County, sued the governor in the state Commonwealth Court, arguing Wolf didn't have the authority to close Public Employee Retirement Commission, commonly called PERC, by defunding it as part of the partial 2015-16 fiscal year state budget.

As part of the lawsuit, Grove and Bloom asked the court to temporarily reopen the office until the court decides if it should be permanently reopened.

On Tuesday, the representatives and Wolf's office reached an agreement to temporarily reopen the office while the court rules on whether Wolf has the authority to close the PERC.

"I think this is a huge win for taxpayers who want an independent analysis of pension bills," Grove said. "It's a big win for the legislative branch of government."

What it did: PERC was created by an act of the General Assembly in 1981 and provided an independent review and analysis of proposed pension reform legislation and review of municipal pension plans.

But as part of the 2015-16 fiscal year budget partially line-item vetoed by Wolf, $962,000 in funding destined for PERC was cut off. The three full-time PERC employees were transferred to the budget office when the commission shuttered, and its executive director left state employment.

Bloom has introduced a measure, House Bill 1793, that would restore funding.

Grove and Bloom argued in the lawsuit that Wolf went against the state constitution and that legislative approval is needed for PERC to be closed.

Response: However, counsel for the governor's office in its response to the lawsuit, which it described as "unwarranted," and argued Wolf was well within his rights to cut off funding allocations. It also says some of the functions of PERC will continue uninterrupted but under the governor's Office of the Budget in order to comply with a state law.

Under the agreement, the three remaining employees will be transferred back to PERC until a final decision is made. The employees will again be independent of Wolf's office and the agency will be allowed to independently perform its duties.

The court is expected to rule on the case within the next few months, Grove said.

A spokesperson for Wolf's office couldn't be reached for comment.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.