OP-ED: The need for pension relief
"Delusional, dangerous public pension bill" is how state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, characterized Senate Bill 1 in his July 13 op-ed in The York Dispatch. In reality, the only thing delusional or dangerous is blatantly disregarding the safety and security of Pennsylvania's economic future by sticking our head in the sand and insisting the status quo will fix our pension problem.
Two days before Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed SB 1, I met with a school superintendent and a school board president to discuss their concerns and needs, and to update them on the status of the state budget. Like those in school districts across the commonwealth, these officials echoed many of the districts in York County when expressing a need for pension reform that will generate long-term savings as well as immediate savings.
SB 1 protects 100 percent of the earned benefits of all current retirees, teachers and employees. It continues to provide a fair and valuable retirement benefit to state and school district employees and honors and protects past obligations while preventing future liability.
Ironically, the very benefit plan proposed for state and school employees in SB 1 is essentially the same benefits plan the governor provided his private sector employees at Wolf Distributing Co. As described on the company's website, "Each one of Wolf's 225 employees enjoys a compensation package that includes some of the most generous and flexible benefits anywhere." The benefit plan includes a 401(k) with a 3 percent employee minimum and a 3 percent employer match including revenue sharing.
The Wolf plan is almost the same as SB 1's benefit structure including revenue sharing, which in SB 1 is called risk sharing. So when businessman Wolf's money is on the line, a 401(k) pension is "generous and flexible." When the taxpayers' money is on the line, Gov. Wolf and members of his party reject a 401(k) concept. If a 401(k) is "generous and flexible" for businessman Wolf's private sector employees, why is it unfair for public employees?
Furthermore, why is Rep. Evans calling this plan dangerous and delusional? Perhaps the answer lies in SB 1 freezing pension benefits for elected members of the General Assembly upon re-election and placing them in the same pension system as newly hired state and school employees. If a legislator was focused on looking out for No. 1, it makes sense that he or she would be scared of losing their golden pension after 35 years of holding elected office. While I declined the pension benefit upon my election to the state House, I truly appreciate my fellow Republicans making the tough vote to include themselves in the pension changes. This is true self-sacrificing leadership that, on the 10th anniversary of the 2005 pay raise, reflects a different kind of Legislature.
While we face many obstacles as a state, I know the vetoed no-tax-increase budget, vetoed liquor privatization bill, vetoed pension overhaul bill and vetoed fair funding education formula are fundamental changes that continue to move Harrisburg away from status quo governing.
I just wish we had a different kind of governor who didn't back the same stale status quo policies of higher taxes, more borrowing and protecting what is broken.