The Public Employee Retirement Commission met this morning to consider an actuarial note to two Grell amendments, one of which establishes a cash balance pension plan for most public employees. The other amendment was described as technical and without impact. During discussions on the cash balance proposal, it was revealed that the bulk of the projected savings come from the issuance of a pension obligation bond and not from plan design changes. Commission staff suggested the policy implications of a bond are a question for the legislature to explore, but said a bond has benefits from a system-standpoint.
Look for the complete story in the Capitol Toolbox later this afternoon.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today unveiled a performance audit that shows the high rate of growth of the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania has “caught the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.” DePasquale explained the audit showed eight different findings on DEP’s performance in monitoring potential impacts to water quality from shale gas development 2009-2012. He concluded the press conference by taking questions from the press.
PLS subscribers find the full story later today in the Capitol Toolbox.
Rep. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the current state of the budget as it has received line-item vetoes from Gov. Tom Corbett. “The governor’s actions today seem to be about politics and not about the hard work of the government,” argued Rep. Turzai. “Between the House and Senate we sent him a budget that spent $29.1 billion, only 1.8 percent over last year’s budget.” Gov. Corbett’s budget proposal would have spent $29.4 billion, a 2.9 percent growth, he noted. Rep. Turzai explained the executive branch’s expenditures have seen 16.4 percent growth while the legislature’s expenditure has grown by only 4.8 percent. He said he does not understand why the governor will not sign a budget that was delivered on time and includes his “most important request” for public education funding.
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Gov. Tom Corbett held a press conference this morning to announce that has signed the budget and Fiscal Code and also line item vetoed $65 million in General Assembly Operating Appropriations and as well as an additional $7.2 million in additional legislative-designated spending. “Facing a $1.5 billion deficit and struggling to provide adequate funding for essential programs, the General Assembly instead chose to increase their own $330 million budget by two percent,” he stated. “It is charging the taxpayers an additional $5 million to pay for its parking. It refuses to use any of its own six-month surplus – $150 million in taxpayer-funded budgetary reserves – to help with the budget gap. It filled the budget with earmarks driven by high-powered lobbyists. And it refused to deal with the biggest fiscal challenge facing Pennsylvania: our public pensions.” Check out the PLS Capitol Toolbox later today to read the full story.
Senators Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) held a teleconference this morning to discuss the status of the state budget and upcoming actions of the Senate. Sen. Costa said the main issue faced by the legislature is the fact that Gov. Corbett has not yet signed the budget bill. He admitted the Democratic Caucus did not support the budget bill but he believes the governor should sign the bill expeditiously. “Holding people hostage is not appropriate,” opined Sen. Costa. “Now that he’s got a balanced budget on the table done on time he should sign it.”
PLS subscribers find the full story in the Capitol Toolbox.
Rock The Capital released a review of current and former state legislators who accepted an increase in their pay through “unvouchered expenses” and refused to pay the money back this morning. Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, explained the organization released a report on the status of the people who voted for the pay raise nine years ago and refused to pay the money back. He said he believes the pay raise situation, the pension spike, and the automatic Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) has put Pennsylvania in a political conundrum. “Pennsylvania’s state government is a slow democracy,” opined Epstein. “They accomplish next to nothing and are paid a lot.”
Gov. Corbett offers budget update
Governor Corbett spoke today on the state of the fiscal budget process and his ongoing desire to enact pension reform before breaking for the summer. The governor lamented a procedural move by the House yesterday to refer a pension reform measure back to committee, and blamed public sector unions for leveraging their opposition to the measure.
The governor emphasized he is keeping “all options” on the table, including a possible veto of the budget. He encouraged Republican leadership to work with their membership to put pension reform up for a Floor vote, and indicated he would be more amenable to signing the budget, and its associated pieces of legislature that are still in process, if pension reform is also on his desk.
PLS subscribers check back later for ongoing coverage of the state budget and pension reform.
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) held a teleconference this afternoon to discuss the $29.1 billion budget passed by the General Assembly last evening. Gov. Corbett has yet to sign the budget. PBPC Executive Director Sharon Ward described the budget situation as “not quite done yet.” She explained the Senate amended the House’s budget which was passed late last night. Ward said Gov. Corbett’s announcement he would not sign the bill was shocking to some. She opined the current budget bill did not require any Democratic votes to pass and does not include any new revenue sources.
PLS subscribers find the full story in the Capitol Toolbox.
Gov: Move on pension reform
Speaking from his office late Sunday afternoon, Gov. Tom Corbett appealed to the legislature to take up pension reform before breaking for the summer.
“I am urging the legislature to continue to work on pension reform,” he said, contending the current system is unsustainable for the commonwealth, with the liability per citizen reaching upwards of $30,000.
Noting there are “not quite enough votes on the Republican side” to move pension reform in the House, he called on House Democrats to support the measure. Speaking to the Philadelphia delegation in particular, Gov. Corbett said “if there is a positive pension reform vote, then there would be a positive cigarette tax vote on behalf of the School District of Philadelphia.”
Gov. Corbett said that would be a “huge step” in helping the city, as well as reform helping the commonwealth as a whole.
“It’s in their hands,” he said of Philadelphia Democrats.
PLS subscribers check the Capitol Toolbox for full details on the governor’s update and ongoing budget coverage.
Education advocates were joined by Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) for a press conference in the Main Rotunda in opposition of the budget bill that recently was passed by the House. Jay Himes, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), asserted that these state cuts will not only lead to further harm to students and districts across the Commonwealth, but also continue to put pressure on districts to raise local property taxes. Sen. Farnese expressed his “disgust” with the continued lack of concern for children across the state, particularly those in Philadelphia. “If you bury the city of Philadelphia, you’re going to bury the entire Commonwealth along with it,” he submitted. “The truth is that this is not a Philadelphia program; this is a Pennsylvania problem.” Various advocates from districts throughout the state expressed similar concerns, noting that the legislature is ignoring the importance of education amongst Pennsylvanians. Helen Gym, head of Parents United for Public Education, stated, “If they can’t hear us today, they’ll hear it loud and clear in November.”
PLS Subscribers check the Capitol Toolbox shortly for the complete story.