July 02--On Monday evening, a little more than an hour before the start of the new fiscal year, Gov. Tom Corbett said he was still deciding whether to sign the $29.1 billion budget that passed the state Senate and House.
Corbett said he wanted to see action on pensions.
"Leadership is not always about the popular choices; it's about difficult choices," Corbett said in a statement shortly before 11 p.m. Monday.
Those pension-reform efforts suffered a setback Tuesday as the House voted 107-96 to suspend debate on a pension-overhaul bill that would create a hybrid retirement plan for new public and school-district employees.
The Associated Press reported that state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a Bucks County Republican who chairs the Human Services Committee, made a motion to send the bill to his committee. DiGirolamo opposed the legislation, according to the Associated Press.
"I don't know where we go from here," said state Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, who supports the pension overhaul plan.
All of the House Democrats opposed the plan, and 15 Republicans joined them to vote in favor of sending the bill to a committee.
"This proposal would do nothing to help fill the immediate state budget shortfall, but it would cruelly and harshly cut future pension benefits for thousands of working people," House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody said in a news release. "These cuts would be devastating to Pennsylvania's economy."
The governor's office said in budget documents earlier this year that the state's two public pension systems -- the State Employees' Retirement System and the Public School Employees' Retirement System -- have a debt of about $50 billion owed to state workers and public school employees because the total liabilities exceed the total assets of the combined plans.
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said in a news release Tuesday that the pension overhaul plan from state Rep. Mike Tobash would save between $11 and $16 billion over the next three decades.
"I am saddened that my House colleagues voted to use this procedural maneuver to put off real reform of our Commonwealth's troubled pension systems," Grove said in the news release.
Under the Tobash amendment, new employees would qualify for defined benefits for the first $50,000 of their wages for the first 25 years of service, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The legislation would create a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k), for employees who have more than 25 years of service or more than $50,000 in wages. The $50,000 threshold would increase annually.
On Monday, Grove said he'd like to see a fully defined contribution system for new employees.
"I think the Tobash amendment moves towards a D.C. plan, gets it on the table. In a few years we'll be able to come back and do the full D.C., because people will be more secure with it, more confident. It'll be a known entity," Grove said.
State Rep. Stan Saylor, the House majority whip, said on Monday that they've tried for weeks to get the votes. He said the House Republicans were about five votes short and no Democrats would support the plan.
"The bottom line is this is not a Republican problem," Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said, adding that it was created by both parties. "And the solution should be bipartisan."
State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York, said the legislation amounted to "dismantling pensions," and he was concerned that changes to what new employees contribute would put the pension systems at risk.
Contact Ed Mahon at 717-771-2089.
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