The House Government Committee meeting this morning was an exercise, with the final 15-10 vote to move the pension ‘reform’ bill out of committee cast strictly along party lines. Chairman Metcalfe and the other supporters of pension ‘reform’ held the 8:00 AM Committee meeting not as an opportunity for an honest discussion or debate about pension reform, but simply as a step in the process to destroy pensions. Never was this more evident than when Representative Sims, upon conclusion of his compelling remarks in defense of teachers and State workers, had to lament the fact that Chairman Metcalfe had been on his cell phone rather than paying attention to Sims’ comments.
And that’s the problem, while participating in an effort to undermine the retirement security of teachers and State workers, some of our politicians act as though even a discussion of the consequences of such legislation is a waste of their time. This level of disdain for our public servants is deeply disturbing, and points to the purely ideological considerations that are fueling the movement to eliminate pensions.
Unlike the Senate version, the legislation advanced today in the State House once again contains not only the 401(k)-type plan for new hires, but direct reductions in the future pension benefits of current employees.
Over the past several weeks, we have heard many of our politicians demand action on pension reform. What we haven’t seen, however, is a rational or math-based argument in support of the plans that Governor Corbett, Senator Brubaker or Representative Ross have put forth. We hear a lot of colorful analogies to defend the concept of moving new employees into a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. We’ve heard how we have to stop putting more passengers on the Titanic, and how we have to plug the hole before we start bailing the water out of the boat. The problem with their simplistic analogies is that public employees are not causing the Titanic to sink, and new employees are not a ‘hole’ that needs to be plugged, they are vital to the health of the pension system.
The argument in favor of the proposed pension legislation is a profoundly dishonest and cynical one. It relies on misleading voters into believing that their elected officials are doing something to solve a problem, when in fact, this legislation will make the problem much worse. Facts do not seem to matter in this debate. Lines are being drawn on ideological grounds, by individual legislators who buy into the bankrupt notion that public employees are a burden on the State and on taxpayers, rather than recognizing them as the dedicated public servants that they are.
Facts may not matter to some of our politicians in Harrisburg, but the facts are what will impact the future of our State, our budget, and the lives of working families across the Commonwealth.
This afternoon the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC) – the official State Agency in charge of reviewing proposed changes to the State’s public retirement plans – released their analysis of the legislation that has been proposed in the General Assembly. Their analysis read, in part:
“ACT 120 significantly lowered the benefits for Class T-E and Class T-F members (members hired after June 30, 2011.) The employer normal contribution rate for these members in the later years is less than the 4% employer DC contribution. Therefore, it is more costly to enroll future members in the DC plan. Overall, the cumulative costs over the projected period are significantly higher under HB 1352.”
The additional cost to taxpayers under the Governor’s plan would be $33.8 BILLION according to the official PERC analysis. These facts SHOULD matter to every elected official in Harrisburg.
While PERC took the highly unusual step of including, along with their analysis, partisan materials provided by a number of witnesses who testified at the meeting, those politically-motivated addenda do not change the legitimate findings of the PERC actuarial analysis.