After more than a day of criticism from fellow state Republicans who accused him of failing to show leadership, Gov. Tom Corbett said Friday that he has worked behind the scenes long enough and will take his cause of pension reform to the public.
State legislators failed to address an overhaul of public pensions in the 2014-15 state budget they presented to Mr. Corbett this week. On Thursday, the governor signed the $29.1 billion budget bill but struck more than $72 million from the fiscal plan because the Legislature increased its own funding while declining his call to overhaul the retirement system for future state and school workers. The state faces a $1.5 billion deficit, in part because of those pension obligations.
Unless the Legislature creates a new pension system that the state can afford, the state’s residents -- and in particular, retirees and others on fixed incomes -- will feel the pain, Mr. Corbett said. Under the current system, taxes would have to increase to pay for the additional obligations, he said.
“What they should care about is their property taxes, and that’s what this is about,” Mr. Corbett said of Pennsylvania residents during a tour Friday of a Strip District company. “It starts with the driver, which is pensions.”
State legislative leaders in both the House and Senate, which are both controlled by Republicans, have said they support public pension changes but don’t believe the state can afford Mr. Corbett’s plan to transition to a 401(k)-style plan for new state and public school workers.
State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, has said the House would try to vote on its own version of a pension bill, among other items, when it returns to session Aug. 4. That version could save employers $11 billion over 30 years, according to a retirement commission note.
On Friday, Mr. Turzai reiterated his call for Mr. Corbett to "use the bully pulpit" and take a greater leadership role to get reforms in such areas as state liquor store privatization and reduction in the size of the Legislature as well as pensions.
Mr. Turzai said the Republican leadership in the House has been able to work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation in key areas only to have it stall in the Senate. Rather than criticizing the Senate, which also is controlled by Republicans, Mr. Turzai pushed for more leadership from the Republican governor.
"We’ve met and done what we said we were going to do when we took over the majority [in the House in 2011]," Mr. Turzai said during remarks Friday at a news conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse. "We ask, what has the governor done from the bully pulpit to take a leadership role. ... We need the governor's help to get these things over the goal line."
Mr. Turzai characterized the legislative budget cut as a political move and said it would have little impact on any action in the House. He pushed aside any political rift with Mr. Corbett, who is facing a tough re-election battle with Democrat Tom Wolf, and said he would vote for Mr. Corbett.
He made it clear, though, that he would like to see more support from Mr. Corbett on the House's legislative agenda.
"The House has led from the front," he said.
But Mr. Corbett said Friday that it was his administration that first identified the pension problem and pushed for a solution to keep current programs intact without a need for tax increases to prevent the state from sliding into deficit.
While his administration has pushed for a fix, he doesn‘t have some of the same useful tools past governors were able to employ to win legislators’ votes to their administrations’ agendas, Mr. Corbett pointed out.
“You know what I don’t have because I campaigned against it, which is ‘walking around money,’” he said in remarks at the Strip District company. “We don’t have those levers of ’I need your vote, and I’m going to give you this project, and I want you to vote with me when I need it.’”
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: 412-263-1719 or email@example.com. Ed Blazina: 412-263-1470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published July 11, 2014 12:00 AM