GOP lawmaker says mayor made good start on pension relief

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A key Republican state lawmaker today gave high marks to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's kickoff, Monday, of an effort to solve the city's persistent pension problem.

"What I liked about it is, I thought the mayor was very open, very respectful," said Rep. Mike Turzai, the Republican whip, of Bradford Woods. He was the sole GOP lawmaker at Monday's first meeting of a panel that will study the city's pension problem and may bring suggestions to Harrisburg, though staff for Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, participated by phone.

"There was open discussion. It was very professional. I said, 'Look, mayor, you have a real opportunity here.'"

The city's pension fund is around $600 million short of ideal levels, and Mr. Ravenstahl, a Democrat, wants to lease city parking garages to raise $200 million, and increase revenues by $15 million a year to steadily close the remaining gap. Mr. Turzai, a staunch fiscal conservative, did not rule out backing tax changes --- as long as they were part of "a comprehensive solution" also including reforms and savings.

"It cannot only be a discussion about revenues, although I am open to a discussion of revenues," Mr. Turzai said. "We have to talk about selling some assets. We have to talk about offering defined contribution [retirement benefit] alternatives for the future. We have to talk about making sure there are not [benefit] spikes in calculating pensions. But those are all things that are on the table."

If so, would the election-year political climate allow for a vote on a package that might help the city? "I'm optimistic it could be done this year," said Mr. Turzai.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542

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