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Politics & Government

Pension Overhaul Spiked As Corbett Stalls

State lawmakers unceremoniously sidelined a public pension overhaul bill Tuesday, disarming House Republicans in their efforts to advance a priority topping Gov. Tom Corbett’s legislative wish list.

Midway through floor debate on the measure, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R- Bucks) asked to send the pensions proposal to his committee for further study over the summer.

“There are too many unanswered questions about the proposal and about the amendment that we have before us,” said DiGirolamo.

Fifteen Republicans joined with all 92 House Democrats to send the bill to committee, delaying a full House on the measure indefinitely.

Some House Republicans said Corbett’s decision to withhold a signature on the state budget Monday night probably solidified GOP members against the pension bill. But others critical of the measure said they doubted any tentative supporters had soured over the past couple of days. One source close to House GOP leadership said the vote count on the bill never changed much over the past few weeks.

The measure will go to the House Human Services Committee, chaired by DiGirolamo, a Republican who tends not to vote with House GOP leadership. It was his committee that recently approved a measure to expand Medicaid.

The proposed pension overhaul would change retirement benefits for state and public school employees hired in the future.

The plan was controversial among Republicans, some of whom criticized it for not doing enough to shrink the state’s existing pension debt or offer relief to school districts hurting now because of rising pension costs. Democrats said they opposed it because it wouldn’t provide enough retirement security for future workers.

But supporters say the bill scales back public pensions to what the state can afford. Actuaries agree that it would reduce the state’s pension costs decades from now, and prevent the commonwealth from getting saddled with such massive pension debt in the future.

The move to put off a vote was a blow to Corbett’s agenda on his last state budget process before he faces reelection this fall. Corbett has insisted on passage of the pension revamping, even sacrificing an on-time budget to try to get it.

The signature standoff continues. The governor has 10 days, or until July 9, to decide what to do with the state budget. He could sign the spending blueprint late, veto it, or veto parts of it.

“He’s scrutinizing each line,” said spokesman Jay Pagni. “Reviewing each line, line by line.”

Corbett could also decline to sign the budget and let the spending plan be implemented by default after his 10-day review period is over.

Pagni said state services won’t be affected by the budget review. In the meantime, he held out hope that the pension bill wasn’t dead.

“There are plenty of individuals in this building,” said Pagni. “There are discussions to be had, and I think we can still come to some common ground.”

The House GOP seemed none too optimistic Tuesday.

“Is the governor playing chess, or is he playing checkers?” said one Republican lawmaker. “Or is he playing tiddlywinks?”