Their View: Solution needed to pension crisis

The following editorial appeared in The Scranton Times-Tribune.

State Senate Republicans apparently need a governor of the opposite party to convince them of their own party’s proposals. They are considering resurrecting a key provision of a pension reform plan that they failed to embrace after Republican former Gov. Tom Corbett first proposed it.

Indeed, one of the enduring mysteries of Corbett’s single term is why he could not get traction with the Republican-controlled General Assembly on policy initiatives rooted in Republican philosophy. The big two of those issues were breaking the state government’s booze monopoly and reforming public pensions.

Gov. Tom Wolf, the Democrat who soundly defeated Corbett in November, has proposed a pension reform plan that deals with revenue and administrative issues to partly rein in runaway costs that are stressing the state budget and driving up property taxes statewide.

The key word is “partly.” Wolf’s plan deals with excessive administrative costs and the state government’s and school districts’ failure to fully fund the pensions. It ignores another key leg, however — the General Assembly’s gratuitous award of excessive benefits in 2001. Lawmakers raised their own benefit by an unheard-of 50 percent and cut in hundreds of thousands of teachers and state employees for 25 percent, creating unsustainable benefit levels. Even before they did so, benefits under the public plans were superior to almost anything to be found in the private sector.

Now, Sen. Jake Corman, the Republican majority leader from Benner Township, wants to revive Corbett’s entirely reasonable plan to roll back the vastly excessive benefit levels to the merely generous rates that existed before the General Assembly’s malevolent tinkering in 2001.

Any benefits that workers earned between 2001 and now would be at the higher rate, but going forward, benefits would be earned at the 2001 rates.

Opponents contend that pension rates never can be reduced, which will come as news to almost everyone in the private sector. It’s especially remarkable in that the same lawmakers who say the rates can’t be reduced going forward increased them retroactively in 2001.

Corman and his colleagues should have implemented the reform when Corbett was in office. Now, they should use the eminently fair proposal in negotiations with Wolf to establish comprehensive pension reform.