Missed Opportunities: Fall Legislative Session
Three critical bills stalled last week amidst a flurry of last minute legislative activity. Failure to reform pensions, repeal the e-cigarette tax, and prohibit ghost teaching were missed opportunities that will compound challenges facing lawmakers in 2017.
A compromise proposal to place newly-hired state workers into a hybrid pension plan fell three votes short of passage in the House. The bill provided a 401(k) component paired with a smaller defined benefit component. Employees could also choose to opt-in to an entirely 401(k)-style plan, providing ultimate portability and retirement control. Although the legislation provided little in immediate cost savings, it shifted future financial risk away from taxpayers and provided a predictable system for measuring costs.
Union leaders and lobbyists campaigned hard against the bill, and it was narrowly defeated without seeing a vote.
Reducing the E-Cigarette Tax
Revising the punitive e-cigarette / vape tax from a 40% retroactive wholesale tax to a 5 cents per milliliter tax failed to advance in the House. Meanwhile, the Senate was reluctant to add any session days to send the bill to Gov. Wolf. This inaction will eliminate thousands of jobs and bring in far less revenue than the $13 million originally projected.
Vape businesses are already beginning to close.
Expelling Ghost Teachers
Lawmakers were unable to prohibit release time provisions that enable unions to pluck teachers from the classroom to perform union work on school time. These ghost teachers continue earn salaries, rack up pension benefits, and accrue seniority while working for the union. Worse, the union may not be formally required to reimburse school districts for these costs. In other words, resources are being diverted from the classroom to line the pockets of a private organization. Strictly limiting the practice of ghost teaching, as would HB 2125, would have saved taxpayers millions and corrected an obvious injustice.
HB 2125 will be reintroduced next session.