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Smart Talk: Proposed Pension Reform

Written by Fred Vigeant, Director of Programming and Promotions for TV and Radio | Jul 9, 2014 3:02 PM
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This hour of Smart Talk we talk about possible changes to pensions for state and school employees.  Leading the discussion is guest host Dennis Owens for the vacationing Scott Lamar. Dennis is joining us for the show from abc27 where he anchors News at 6:00 pm along with Alicia Richards and News at 7:00 pm with Valerie Pritchett.

The state budget still awaits the governor's signature.  The budget has been approved by the House and Senate.  According to WITF's Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Wilson, the legislature's budget does make the full scheduled payments toward the pension debt, but those payments are already lower than actuaries suggest. Debate on the House floor was suspended last week with discussion tabled to committee. The proposal would replace the current traditional pensions with a hybrid system for newly hired state and school employees. It would combine a scaled-down pension with a 401(k)-style plan in which employees make their own investment decisions.

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State Representative Glen Grell, Eric Epstein coordinator for Rock the Capitol, and Bill Dando the assistant legislative director for AFSME


Mr. Owens will be discussing this issue with State Representative Glen Grell. He was first elected in 2004 to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 87th District in Cumberland County. He is currently serving his fifth, two-year term in the state House. Also in studio, Rock the Capitol coordinator Eric Epstein, a community advocate for good government for over 25 years and Bill Dando, the assistant legislative director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13.

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Comments: 10

  • Bob Nunn img 2014-07-10 08:02

    How did we get here, well, politicians didn't pay their bill (their part of the pension program), they spent the money on other items, and now they have an ovedue bill...

    Before they even consider pension reform, the politicians on the hill need to look a reforming their numbers, perks, and salaries...

    The state is moving more and more towards using consultants, these consultants apparently pay better than the commonwealth because they 're able to hire away state employees, and they're also looking to make a profit...given that how is using consultants not costing the taxpayer more.

  • Bob Nunn img 2014-07-10 08:14

    Maybe someone can clear this up, I understand that years ago the Union wanted to switch to a 401k but the politicians didn't want to lose control so they rejected the proposal.

  • Bob Nunn img 2014-07-10 08:24

    Dennis, ask your friend how many people in his field have had someone walk in and shoot at them...plus, tell him to go teach, then we'll if he still feels the same way...I don't teach, but I know how students and parents act.

  • Bill McGregor img 2014-07-10 08:27

    Please stop using the term "unfunded liability". This misnomer mis-characterizes what was done. Over a 10 year period, people like Eric Epstein knew that they owed teachers and other people money, but then decided not to pay teachers what was owed them. I know Eric Epstein wants to ignore this (he just said we can't spend time on blame). The fact that this crisis exists has nothing to do with teacher's retirement being a defined benefit. This problem exists because people like Eric Epstein, in Eric Epstein's role, took money from people.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-10 08:35

    Ali emails:

    It is crazy to isolate the conversation about pensions from our governors and state legislatures refusal to increase taxes on corporate interests. Rather than close the DE Loophole, or fairly tax shale as every other state has, the governor has proposed balancing the budget entirely on cuts to working people and poor people, and so called "pension reform" is part of that. I agree with rep. Grell that we need to address out budget issues-- by asking everyone to pay their fare share. Working people have been asked to pay enough, it's time to ask corporations to pay the same.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-10 08:38

    Blaine from York emails:

    Gentlemen,
    Again the Baby Boom ( born in 1963 I am the very end of it ) is going to give the shaft to the younger generation and then say how bad the younger people are.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-10 08:39

    Reina Wooden writes on Facebook:

    Dennis Owens is doing very well as Guest Host

  • Bill McGregor img 2014-07-10 08:46

    Please stop using the term "unfunded liability". This misnomer mis-characterizes what was done. Over a 10 year period, people like Eric Epstein knew that they owed teachers and other people money, but then decided not to pay teachers what was owed them. I know Eric Epstein wants to ignore this (he just said we can't spend time on blame). The fact that this crisis exists has nothing to do with teacher's retirement being a defined benefit. This problem exists because people like Eric Epstein, in Eric Epstein's role, took money from people.

  • David Ritter img 2014-07-10 19:42

    First,

    Thank you for a very good show. I was at work this morning, so I couldn't respond "live."

    Representative Grell, thank you for your leadership on this issue, and for your public service. Keep working for what is right. Eventually, you will convince the others to do the right thing.

    Having just listened to the show, I wanted to make two points:

    1) If I understood correctly, Budget Secretary Zogby did not like Representative Grell's plan, so HE (Secretary Zogby) decided to make Representative Grell and his ideas and voice irrelevant in the negotiations. WHO elected Secretary Zogby?

    2) Regarding the lump-sum withdrawals that state employees are able to take when they retire as an option ("Option 4" I believe you called it, Representative Grell). Something for the listeners and the people of the Commonwealth to keep in mind..... People who work for the state and get a pension do NOT get regular COLAs (Cost of Living Adjustments) to their pensions -- THAT only happens if and when the state legislature passes a law and appropriates money to pay for the COLA. THEREFORE, many take this "lump sum" and roll it over into an IRA, so that they have a pool of money to draw from to help pay for the higher cost of living, especially when they live through many years of NO pension increases.

    I, personally, am a new state employee, hired after Act 120 took effect, so I will not have the option of taking out a lump-sum. I also opted to the higher employee contribution of 9.3% withholding to help grow my pension, and I will not be vested until after 10 years.

    I certainly hope that when this is finally addressed, that it is done thoughtfully and responsibly -- for the good of ALL Pennsylvanians, and NOT just done in a way that is politically convenient, and yet again kicks the can down the road a bit further.

    I LIKE the idea of a bond to cover the $9 Billion underpayment -- as it forces the state to pay it on time, every time. THIS takes it out of the political and "shell game" budgetary process and puts it in a very different place.

    Thank you, and good luck!

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2014-07-11 07:58

    Earl from Mechanicsburg emails:

    To you at WITF who do you serve as a, so called, public and civic minded organization? Are you working for politicians and the medical industry who seem to be the major sponsors?

    Based on this mornings conversation or lack of such, why are the political talking and union elements speaking on the public retirement topic in their sterile environment to continue on the kleptomania of tax payers to pay for the legislative errors and ways? Just because they legislated one way does not mean with evolutionary change is society that the public retirement system cannot be changed. Is this a theocracy premise they working from?

    As a organization that is to engage the interest of the public, WITF, it becomes obvious from the current program who you represent, money and power. How do assimilate the title "Public" into your organization when that representation was not heard from someone who lives under private sector retirement which has no guarantees?

    Now I know why I no longer support WITF and use another public radio source.

    Disgusted.


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