On Tuesday, a task force spearheaded by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released its recommendation for municipal pension reform. The report recommends, among other things, more transparency and accountability in municipal pensions and taking pensions out of the collective bargaining process.
This report is the latest in a string of bipartisan efforts to tackle the municipal pension problem.
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee advanced SB 755, legislation that would indeed take pensions out of collective bargaining and put all new public safety employees into a defined contribution plan.
SB 755 has the support of the Commonwealth Foundation along with the Coalition for Sustainable Communities—a coalition of local officials and business leaders. But for the first time, the legislation received Democratic legislative support. Sen. Art Haywood, from Montgomery County and a former township commissioner, joined with Republicans to advance the bill.
Other Democratic Senators also indicated they might be open to supporting the final legislation.
The panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, voted against the bill as did other caucus members with one exception. But Mr. Blake said he’s keeping the option of eventually supporting the bill open, depending on what a pending report from Gov. Tom Wolf’s task force on municipal pensions recommends.
Mr. Blake said he’s concerned that switching to a defined-contribution plan could ultimately lead to more pension debt. He noted that Carbondale Mayor Justin Taylor supports the bill.
Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Plymouth Twp., said he plans to keep an open mind about municipal pension changes if the bill reaches the Senate floor. He said pension changes are one reason why Nanticoke is ready to leave Act 47 distressed municipality status.
Of course, municipal pension reform has been a top priority for Democratic mayors from across the commonwealth for some time. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:
[Pittsburgh] Mayor Bill Peduto has pushed hard this year for overhauling municipal pensions, joining nine other Democratic mayors in chastising Democratic legislators for what they called a failure to act, and has met with the governor and legislators on the issue.
“His message has been that pension reform is the number one priority for this city and every other one in the state,” said Tim McNulty, Mr. Peduto’s spokesman.
Mr. Peduto and other proponents have said looming election cycles and the heavy political influence of public safety unions may make future efforts to overhaul the system difficult.
“It’s going to be a hard reach to do state pension reform this year and municipal pension reform next year,” said Lancaster Mayor J. Richard Gray.
While budget discussions continue under the Capitol dome, addressing municipal pensions is no less urgent. And given the bipartisan support behind this effort, the time is ripe.