Of secrecy & sweeteners

Of secrecy & sweeteners

A new four-year contract has been signed, sealed and delivered between the estimated 5,000 faculty and Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities.

No details – none – of the agreement were released until after the board of governors of the State System of Higher Education voted to ratify the deal. It was reported to have been approved by 94 percent of the members of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties who cast ballots.

But considering more than a few of the schools in a system with more than 95,000 students have been, for lack of a better term, sucking air for the longest time, and also considering the State System is seeking $100 million from the state Legislature – uhm, that would be taxpayers – over five years in an attempt to right its listing ship foundering in dire straits, the public, in the least, should have been afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the pact when it was still tentative.

The same goes for public school districts.

Keeping in the dark those who have no choice but to pay for these signed, sealed and delivered labor contracts is public policy at among its worst.

In what world some members of Pittsburgh City Council live remains a considerable mystery. But after decades of council-watching by this ex-wire service/newspaper/broadcast editor and think tank commentator, it can readily be stipulated that they do not live in the real world.

That’s the only conclusion thinking people can reach upon word that the council is considering a proposal to boost the pension of soon-departing councilor Darlene Harris and, perhaps later, 10 others.

The Harris sweetener alone is estimated to cost about $700 a month, according to the Tribune-Review.

In a nutshell, the council measure would eliminate the so-called “Social Security offset” that halves their pension payout when they turn 65.

Of course, there are a few hardly itty-bitty problems with this prospective act.

First, and in no small way, it borders on self-dealing. Elected officials should in no way be allowed to vote to line their own pockets. If this “deal” is prudent, the council should only be allowed to approve of it for those who follow in their footsteps. The “if” in this endeavor looms large.

Second, there are serious reservations that such legislation violates state and city laws. But, hey, what’s the law when you’re doling out sweet parting gifts, right?

Third, and of equal importance, is that Pittsburgh’s pension funds don’t even begin to approach the word “healthy.” As of Sept. 30, the funds had a total of $787.3 million in assets but with liabilities of just under $1.3 billion.

In the parlance of government-speak, that’s considered to be “moderately distressed.”

Why any elected official would even consider adding to that distress is a public policy that can only be bad.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).