Pale reform: Senators shortchange the public on fixing pensions

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If a state Senate committee vote last week on pension reform is a gauge, state and public school employees can relax -- the measure that squeaked past the Senate Finance Committee doesn't touch the publicly funded retirement benefits of any current employees.

That may be good news for them, but the watered-down version of Senate Bill 922 that cleared the panel on a 6-5 vote isn't good news for taxpayers.

Gov. Tom Corbett, in his February budget address and since then, has called for widespread changes in retirement plans for state and school district workers. Under his proposal, state employees hired from January 2015 and public school hires who come on board from July 2015 would enroll in 401(k)-style retirement plans rather than traditional, defined benefit plans. The bill now headed to the full Senate would do that.

However, under the other, meaningful part of the governor's plan, current employees would have kept any benefits they earned up until 2015, but benefits earned after that date would have been calculated at a lower rate and changes would prevent lucrative overtime in final working years from affecting pension payments. The bill doesn't do that.

It also exempts state police and corrections officers and would move elected officials -- including the governor, legislators and judges -- into 401(k)-type plans only after they win re-election or retention.

Although Mr. Corbett responded to the committee's vote by thanking chairman Mike Brubaker, a Lancaster Republican, we're not sure why. This weak version falls far short of the governor's goal of creating a system in which the pension benefits of government and school district employees look more like the plans that taxpayers are likely to be earning from their employers.

The people who pay the bills in Pennsylvania -- the taxpayers -- aren't being well-served if all that lawmakers are willing to do is tiptoe around the issue of pension reform.

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