Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering breaking the law.
In fact, they may have already done it.
The reason? Pension debt.
The Commonwealth owes an estimated $50 million in unpaid pension obligations to state employees.
Instead of doing the responsible thing and paying off the state debt, Republican legislators are trying to rip up the bill and pay whatever they want.
If you or I did that, they’d put us in jail. But I guess the rules are different in Harrisburg.
As a public school employee, I work for the commonwealth. So do the state’s troopers, judges, university staff, etc. When I took this job, I signed a contract. I agreed to certain things (i.e. teaching, keeping up my certification, etc.) if the state agreed to certain things (i.e. pay, benefits, etc.).
But now GOP lawmakers – I don’t mean to be partisan but it is ONLY Republicans – want to renege on that deal.
Let’s say I came into school one day and said, “You know what? I just don’t feel like teaching today. But you still have to pay me.” No reasonable person would expect the state to cut me a check.
I need to live up to my end of the bargain. Otherwise, the state doesn’t have to give me one dollar.
And I have no problem with that. I love teaching. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.
But the state has to live up to its end, too. That goes beyond common sense. It’s one of the key principals of any civilized society. Each party to a contract has to abide by the agreement.
That’s really the issue – breach of contract. Legislators want to reduce benefits for both new employees – which is shortsighted but legal – and current employees – which has NEVER been permissible.
This isn’t just my interpretation. When lawmakers in Oregon and Illinois tried to rip up their state employee pensions, their state Supreme Courts ruled it unconstitutional.
State constitutions in both Oregon and Illinois specifically prohibit violation of contracts. Pennsylvania’s state constitution has an almost identical provision.
That is not serious lawmaking. It’s theater.
This legislation has already passed the state Senate with all Democrats and one Republican voting against it. If it somehow were to pass the state House (which is by no means a sure thing) and if Gov. Wolf signed it into law (which he has said he would NOT do), it would go straight to court.
There would be no cost savings. In fact, the state would have to spend additional taxpayer money to defend legislators’ disdain for their own laws and 370,000 state workers.
So why do it?
Gov. Wolf has proposed a budget that would right the wrongs of the previous Republican administration. Among other things, Wolf would restore $1 billion in annual cuts to public schools.
With this, we could reduce class size by rehiring the 25,000 teachers we unnecessarily sacked four years ago. We could ensure all children get arts, music, science labs, foreign languages, sports and extra-curricular activities. Even amenities like school nurses and guidance counselors could be restored.
But from the moment the governor made this promise, Republicans have vowed to oppose it. They had no problem four years ago voting to cripple our state education system. The result: Pennsylvania has the most inequitable school spending in the nation.
The commonwealth spends only 36.1% of the cost to educate students. That’s far below the national average of 45.5%, and ranks 45th in the country. The remaining cost is absorbed by local property taxes. Not only does this put an enormous tax burden on residents, it ensures schools in richer communities are better funded than those in poorer ones.
In fact, Pennsylvania has the worst disparity in the nation between dollars spent on rich vs. poor children.
But our Republican lawmakers are refusing to do anything about that…
Unless the Democrats allow them to pilfer state workers pensions.
Republicans are holding the budget hostage to this criminal pension scheme.
Realistically, they need no help in the House and Senate. They control both bodies and in theory could pass whatever they want. However, this is the first year we have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, so they need to bargain with him.
Funny when Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches, they didn’t have the guts to do this alone. Once it failed, who would they have had to blame?
That’s the reason for this elaborate hoax of a bill. They know it’s illegal. They know it won’t make it through court. They know it won’t save the state a dime because it will never be enacted.
But they are putting on a show for the voters.
Look how hard we tried to save the state money, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t let us do it. Look how hard we tried to increase school spending, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t pass our pension bill so we just couldn’t do it.
Excuse me while I go vomit all over myself!
How did we get in such a situation?
Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for 17 years.
Both the state government and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. And state workers made all their payments. They put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.
But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, lawmakers have the gall to act like they have no idea where this cost is coming from!?
You ran up the bill! Time to pay! But instead of doing that, you blame the hardworking men and women who do all the state’s actual J.O.B.’s. And you practice Al-Qaeda tactics against labor, teachers and students!
Is that too harsh?
Who else holds people hostage to their demands?
This is terrorism as governmental policy. Our course of action should be the same with guerrilla extremists at home as it is with those on foreign soil: We don’t bargain with fanatics.
Gov. Wolf has a plan to pay off the pension debt. It’s nothing fancy. It’s the same kind of advice you might get from your accountant – or your mom. Refinance, reduce costs elsewhere and pay your bills.
That’s certainly a more sound strategy than holding a knife to workers and kids.