Pensions’ Prevailing Point of NO Return

Today I found a message floating in the sea from you to me…

We may not be in Kansas, but it shouldn’t take a smooth hit from 1977 to realize Pennsylvania’s pension crisis will take us to the point of no return.

Was it you that said how long?  Well, the Patriot News aimed to answer that in Sunday’s editorial, State Pensions:  The storm is approaching fast, in which the paper concludes, “It is clear – and has been for some time – that the state pension system is not sustainable.”

Clearly, they, too, smell the smoke from the fire of state pensions, one of the four alarms threatening Pennsylvania’s economy.  While the General Assembly has kicked this carcinogenic and contemptible can down the street at every turn, the inability for the state to meet its obligations has grown exponentially, turning a once smoldering fiscal flame into a raging inferno and the road to recovery into a dead-end street.

To review, Pennsylvania taxpayers fund two statewide pension plans for government employees – the State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) for state employees and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) for school employees.  Trouble is, PSERS and SERS project total taxpayer contributions for these two plans will increase from $1.7 billion in 2011-12 to more than $6.1 billion in 2016-17 – a 257% increase.  In one word:  Unsustainable.  In another:  Unacceptable.

But that’s not the only alarm that paper is sounding as this morning.  Their editorial board said it’s time to repeal the prevailing wage law that has smothered local government and fleeced taxpayers out of billions of dollars used not to improve outcomes but to strengthen unions.

Let’s remember this position is a step beyond HB 1329, which has struggled to gain a majority support despite being just a moderate reform to prevailing wage. So can Pa. get past the ’70s let alone the point of no return?  According to the Patriot News, immediate work on pensions and prevailing wage are needed, lest future generations be condemned to the tragedies of double-knits and the death of double-digit debt.