Don’t blame the unions … blame the lawmakers in Harrisburg

Letter by David W. P. Jones, Daily Local News, 7/11/14

Mr. Thomas Haas … you stated that you were taught “if we make a mistake, to correct it.” Well, you made a few mistakes in your article.

First and foremost, taxpayers have no claim to the private payments and accounts made by teachers. This is not taxpayers’ money, this is the money workers paid from their wages and it belongs. Second, your taxes are not going up “just” because of the pensions. Other issues, like construction, special education, medical benefits and for-profit private school payments are also contributing to the escalation. Next, if the solution were as simple as you suggest it would have been done by now, but one of the things you overlook … which is extremely important … is that the legislators are part of this same system. So, the difficulty is not getting legislators to vote to change employees benefits, but rather, that they must change their own benefits at the same time.

You referred to pensions in the private sector that had to be modified because they were “overly generous.” The private sector pensions were not overly generous, they were underfunded in the exact same way the public sector pensions have been underfunded. In the private sector many companies simply shifted to pay profits before they paid their obligations and then claimed they didn’t have enough funds left to pay their obligations. Many of these pension systems went bankrupt and then the taxpayers had to bail them out with the federally funded pension insurance.

You also blame the “generous formula” the unions pushed for as part of the problem. Well, that generous recalculation in 2002 under the Ridge administration was part of the problem, but it was not generated by the unions, it was pushed by the Legislature and the administration. Just to be clear, while the employees did get a generous recalculation of 25 percent, the legislators actually doubled that to 50 percent for themselves. So don’t blame that one on the unions, please….

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Pension crisis about to explode for Pa. school districts

By ERIC BOEHM, PA Independent, in Daily Local News, 12/07/13

Pa. school districts will face the highest pension costs in their history during the 2014-15 school year, but it will only get worse after that.

School districts across Pennsylvania are getting news that’s unpleasant yet not unexpected.

The Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS, last week began sending notices to school districts that their pension costs will climb to 21.4 percent of payroll in the 2014-15 school year.

Even though that total could change a bit before it becomes official at an end-of-year meeting of the PSERS board, it gives a pretty good indication of what school districts are facing.

For historical context, the 21.4 percent figure is the highest rate since at least the 1950s — and it’s quite a jump from the 16.9 percent districts paid this year.

The actual cost will vary greatly from district to district depending on the size of payroll, but statewide the PSERS pension obligation for next year will ring in around $1.4 billion — with roughly half that cost covered by school districts and the rest left to the state. Another $537 million will be needed to fund the State Employees Retirement System, or SERS, next year.

State Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland, believes it’s time for the General Assembly to do something about Pennsylvania’s mounting pension costs. He said this week that it should be the next major priority of the state government, now that a $2.4 billion transportation infrastructure bill was signed into law.

“They have never been that high, yet the trajectory is still going up,” said Grell, referring to the school district contribution rates. “If we don’t act soon, the rate will certainly continue its rise until it exceeds 31 or 32 percent.”

Without changes, districts will be forced to raise property taxes, cut programs and lay off staff, he said. …

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