Political will needed to solve multiple pension crises
Perhaps because they are blinded by the lush green foliage of their own unconscionable pension benefits, state lawmakers appear undisturbed by the erosion of municipal solvency statewide by unsustainable local public pension debt.
Lawmakers themselves provided the blasting cap for the current state-level pension bomb in 2001. They gave themselves an unwarranted, preposterous 50 percent pension increase and threw in 25 percent for hundreds of thousands of state workers and public school teachers. A year later, for bad measure, they increased benefits for retirees who were supposed to have fixed benefits. All of that occurred just before the economy tanked, twice, so lawmakers then deferred the bill until now. Coupled with equally bad policy that allowed the state and school districts to defer contributions, the result is a $47 billion hole that must be filled with backhoes full of taxpayers' money.
Those same lawmakers have done nothing as the conditions of thousands of local government pension plans also have deteriorated. The state's failure to reform not only pension systems, but local government, has resulted in another pension disaster for taxpayers.
Because Pennsylvania has more units of local government than any other state, it has more local pension plans - more than all other states combined. Many have just two or three members and are worth practically nothing, or less. Many have been mismanaged. Many more have been manipulated by local politicians bestowing favors upon friends in the work force.
Because there are so many plans in such bad shape statewide, there is no single solution to rescue them. But, at the very least, they should be consolidated under professional management so they at least will have a shot at earning something.
Even that is secondary to the bigger problem - Pennsylvania's obsolete forms of local governance, which guarantees fragmentation, inefficiency and waste.
Until lawmakers summon the political will to reform local governance in Pennsylvania through mandatory consolidation of services, they never will earn their own outlandish pensions.