PA Senate Moves A New (But Familiar) Pension Overhaul

Jun 5, 2017

The State Capitol in Harrisburg.
Credit photo: AP

(Harrisburg) -- State senators gathered in the Capitol on Sunday evening to move a bill that’s been dogging the legislature for the last four years, in various forms.

It would rework the structure of the state’s two heavily indebted public pension systems, a change the bill’s supporters say mitigates risk to taxpayers.

However, the proposal does little to reduce the state’s massive pension debt.

Like several previous GOP pension proposals, it would shift the state’s retirement plan to a three-tiered 401-k-style system—effectively reducing benefits for new hires.

That doesn’t save significant dollars. And the Independent Fiscal Office reported that costs would actually increase slightly in the near term.

The state’s current pension debt is roughly $70 billion, and it has consistently missed its projected returns on investment.

Senate Majority Leader, Republican Jake Corman, said the point of the bill is to protect taxpayers from future pension cost fluctuations.

“There’s nothing to say that we’re at our ceiling right now, so if we continue to fall short on our investments, these pension costs are going to continue to skyrocket,” he said. “By doing this bill today, we’ve now reduced the risk.”

The measure didn’t see universal support from the Appropriations Committee—it passed in a mostly party-lines vote, and is expected to see a full floor vote Monday. Its supporters have expressed optimism that it’ll get the broad support it needs to pass, thanks to extensive behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Governor Tom Wolf said he will sign the bill if it passes the legislature.