Governor Wants Pension Reform—Good Luck with That

Governor Wants Pension Reform—Good Luck with That

Looming like the sword of Damocles are the huge increases in state spending needed to keep state pensions adequately funded-there is a $37 billion gap between assets and liabilities. This has prompted the Governor to announce that pension reform will be a priority on his to-do list.

And what is the Legislature with its lucrative pension plan going to do about pension reform? Little or nothing would be a good bet. Kick the can down the road or look around for a nuisance fee or tax to make a small dent in the deficit. But meaningful change? Not until the roof is caving in. The legislators gave themselves a big boost in 2001 and are unlikely to take money from themselves. Public sector unions will not agree to any reforms that touch their benefits. So where is the impetus to do anything serious? This problem has been known about for years and Harrisburg has chosen to study the issue to death and then study it some more.

The Executive Director of AFSCME Council 13, which represents the bulk of state unionized employees, says bluntly, "the state must continue to uphold its obligation to current employees." In other words, taxpayers should get ready for more purse pillaging. Ironically, the union leader reminded that this problem was known about ten years ago and now the bills have come due and its time to talk about raising revenue. That’s so rich it would make your hair hurt. When over the last ten years have any public sector unions ever argued for reduced government spending so more dollars could be set aside for pensions? Indeed, all we hear is that more money is needed for education, social programs, higher pay, better health care benefits, etc.

Unions will never take any of the blame for government fiscal problems nor will they voluntarily agree to help solve them. Instead, they will blame the problems on elected officials who do not have the backbone to stand up to unions and their spending demands.

The union influence combined with the self- aggrandizing motives of the legislators does not bode well for any meaningful action on pensions any time soon. The track record of the Legislature in doing anything remotely restrictive of union power and influence is not one to inspire confidence that they are on the verge doing the right thing for the Commonwealth.