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Politics & Government

Three Months Later, Corbett's Pension Plan Takes Shape in Legislation

State House and Senate lawmakers have stepped up to sponsor legislation to advance the governor’s plan to overhaul the state’s two pension systems.

The Corbett administration made the announcement with a press conference on a stage packed, as has become custom, with supporters. But not a single legislative leader from the House or the Senate was among them. In fact, it’s taken the governor’s office three months to identify lawmakers who will sponsor legislation that does what Corbett wants – most controversially, reduce the future benefits of current employees and allow the state to make smaller payments on the unfunded pension liability, which stands at $47 billion.

Among those who declined is Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland). He’s been hard at work on a pension reform proposal – his district is full of state employees – and he thinks the Legislature should pass something this year. But he’s not on board with parts of the governor’s plan, and he doubts it can pass by the end of June.

“Eight weeks to do something as substantial as this is unlikely to me,” Grell said. “But, if folks come together, it’s possible.”

Sen. Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) is introducing the governor’s plan in the Senate. Rep. Chris Ross (R-Chester) will sponsor the House version.

Ross said Tuesday the pension overhaul plan is not about reducing benefits, but about grappling with pension debt that’s on track to force tax increases at local school districts and spending cuts at the state level.

“This is not an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ situation,” Ross said. “I know I’ve gotten mail and I know some of my colleagues have from some of the state employees, from some of the teachers, thinking that we are somehow about attacking them. And I want to remind everyone that every teacher, every state employee is also a taxpayer.”

State and school employee unions, along with the state treasurer, remain firmly opposed to the governor’s pension overhaul plan. They said in a conference call Tuesday that lawmakers shouldn’t go beyond a 2010 law refinancing the state’s pension debt and reducing benefits of future employees. But some lawmakers, including Ross and Grell, who helped write that legislation, say that law was never meant to be a long-term fix.

Corbett’s budget proposal baked in $175 million in savings that would have come from enacting his pension overhaul. Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said if lawmakers aren’t going to support it, they need to start thinking about how they’ll do without that money.

“The governor’s got a reform plan that would obviate the need for those cuts,” Zogby said. “If the General Assembly’s not prepared to do pension reform, I think we need to look to them. Where are they going to cut from the governor’s proposal in order to make it work?”