Wolf to Pension Commission: “You’re Fired!”
Governor’s Pattern of Eliminating Opposition Defies Claims of Accountability
February 3, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—The latest casualty of Gov. Tom Wolf’s “my way or the highway” approach to governing is the independent agency tasked with evaluating state pension systems and providing cost and benefit analyses. This week, the Wolf administration confirmed plans to eliminate the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC).
PERC’s great crime? Evaluating pension legislation before lawmakers vote on it. With PERC out of the way, accountability and transparency measures covering one of the largest financial problems the state faces will suffer.
“As Pennsylvania faces a $53 billion pension liability, it’s astounding that Governor Wolf would target the independent agency that counts pension costs for legislators and taxpayers,” commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Unfortunately, this has become a pattern for Wolf—removing individuals and now attempting to shutter an entire agency—that challenge his ideology.”
Since taking office, Wolf has tracked a record of trying to fire individuals who won’t bow to his agenda:
- In January 2015, Wolf attempted to remove Erik Arneson as head of the independent Office of Open Records, a move the state Supreme Court ruled illegal.
- In March, he demoted Bill Green as chair of the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia.
- In April, he replaced David Meckley as York’s chief recovery officer.
PERC appears to be the latest to land on Wolf’s unfavorable side. Recently, the agency’s executive director refused Wolf’s request to accept the administration’s actuarial analysis on pension reform without first conducting an independent analysis.
The Wolf administration claims the analysis PERC provides is “redundant and unnecessary and an expense the commonwealth does not need.” Without PERC, however, whose annual budget is $962,000, pension cost analyses will be produced by those on the payroll of the pension systems—a clear conflict of interest.
“While the governor’s sudden interest in fiscal responsibility is a pleasant surprise,” Benefield continued, “where was this interest when Wolf forced schools to incur up to $50 million in borrowing costs just to stay open while he withheld funding from them? Where was this interest when the state spent more than $100,00o in salary and benefits to hire a state meteorologist during a ‘hiring freeze’? The fact is Governor Wolf has a history of removing those who refuse to do his bidding.
“Despite having no legal authority to do so, Wolf is aiming to silence a key voice of accountability and transparency. This is hardly ‘government that works’ for the people of Pennsylvania.”
Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 to schedule an interview.
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