Editorial: Waiting for the right pension reform

York Dispatch

Daily deadlines, weekly deadlines, even hourly deadlines are a normal part of life for everyone, no matter what the job is.

State Capitol

And everyone has also been in position of procrastinating, whether it's waiting until the last minute to write a term paper or frantically cleaning the house before guests show up.

But waiting until the last two days of a session of the Legislature before tackling a topic as complex as pension reform? That's pushing it too far. 
Republicans in the state House and Senate waited until Oct. 25 to take up a bill to change the pension system for new state employees.

Pa. pension reform bill dies as legislative session nears end

Under the bill, future employees of state government and public schools would have been offered the option of three plans. One was a full 401(k)-style benefit while the other two blended a traditional pension benefit and a 401(k)-style benefit.

The proposal also would have boosted the age for full retirement benefits from 65 to 67.

Except the bill didn't go anywhere. Which isn't surprising, since the Legislature's session ended Oct. 26.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said he hopes the bill will come up again during a potential lame-duck session later this month.

We would all be better off if it didn't.

The system laid out in the legislation wouldn't put a dent in the state's estimated $60 billion in pension debt.

Supporters said the changes would help shield the state and school districts from spikes in pension obligations in the future, as markets fluctuate. Over 32 years, the bill would lower projected pension obligation payments of more than $200 billion by about $2.6 billion, according to an analysis by the state Independent Fiscal Office.

Plus, it wouldn't save taxpayers or school districts any money in the short term. In fact, setting up a new system would cost $95 million, according to Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna.

Pa. pension reform bill dies as legislative session nears end

Republicans in the Legislature have been pushing this bill or similar bills for four years. They've never gotten enough support to come up for a vote.

There's a reason for that: It's a bad bill.

Pension reform is something Pennsylvania desperately needs. But this isn't the right system.

The 401(k) systems Republicans are pushing cost more than a traditional pension system and have lower benefits for retirees. The only winners in that system are the companies that adminster the plan and the companies whose stocks are bought with it. Many private-sector workers with 401(k) plans had to put off retirement during the bear market in the Great Recession.

Republicans need to back off the ideological high horse that says if private sector workers have to have a 401(k), public sector workers have to have a 401(k) too. There's no other reason for the Legislature to insist on a system with nominal savings over the long term and higher costs for the short term.

Take some time to figure out a pension system that works and cures the load of debt Pennsylvania is struggling with. Then come back in 2017 and pass it.