Archive

ShareThis Page
Pennsylvania troopers union warns of ‘mass exodus’ if pension reform bill passes | TribLIVE.com
News

Pennsylvania troopers union warns of ‘mass exodus’ if pension reform bill passes

Tribune-Review
| Tuesday, June 2, 2015 2:21 p.m
JosephKovelBetter
Pennsylvania State Troopers Association
The Pennsylvania State Police could lose 1,000 retirement-eligible troopers if a Senate bill reforming the public pension system goes through, warns Joseph Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania State Police could lose 1,000 retirement-eligible troopers if a Senate bill reforming the public pension system goes through, a union president warned Tuesday.

A “mass exodus” of troopers, whether immediately or gradually, could jeopardize public safety, said Joseph Kovel with the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association. He wants lawmakers to exempt the state police from Senate Bill 1. The agency employs 4,365 troopers.

With much at stake for taxpayers in the pension debate, the bill to curb pension costs won Senate approval last month. It is due for scrutiny in the House State Government Committee when a hearing resumes Thursday.

“We don’t believe there is anything in this bill that would justify any mass exodus of state troopers,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County.

In testimony Tuesday to the House committee, Kovel addressed what he considers the bill’s limitations on disability pension benefits and overtime earnings. Kovel said the “drastic effects” of such a bill could make 1,000 retirement-eligible officers leave the force.

“It’s not a threat; it’s a reality,” Kovel said. “… A mass exodus of our most experienced and senior troopers will have a long-term and immediately devastating impact on our ability to sustain even the most rudimentary public safety services.”

Even if the agency could recruit 1,000 replacement troopers, Kovel said, it couldn’t train them fast enough. And if gradual retirements occur, the slimmed-down benefits might make it harder to attract people to the force. The state police association is in the middle of a five-year contract that expires June 30, 2017.

Taxpayers will pay an additional $1 billion in the 2015-16 state budget if pension costs for state and school employees go unaddressed, Kocher said. The spiraling pension debt has prompted lawmakers to look at remedies, including Senate Bill 1.

Pennsylvania has more than $47 billion in unfunded pension liability — one of the highest amounts next to New Jersey, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators.

Pennsylvania’s pension funds for school and state employees had a combined $79 billion in assets under management in 2013, according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts.

To improve education quality across the state, “we must address the elephant in the room: public-sector pension costs,” said Jon S. DeArment, president of a hand-tool company in Meadville and school board member in Crawford Central.

“Rising pension costs make it harder to balance the budget each year without raising property taxes,” DeArment testified.

Staunchly opposed by Democrats, Senate Bill 1 would curb benefits for existing employees and provide a 401(k)-style plan for new employees.

It’s a critical component of budget negotiations between the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. Pension reform is the top Republican Senate priority.

Wolf would let a 2010 law continue to reduce costs and borrow $3 billion to pay the unfunded liability. He would shut down what he says are exorbitant fees paid to Wall Street.

“Respectfully, Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget largely ignores the pension problem,” DeArment told the committee. He expressed support for Senate Bill 1.

Roy Pinto, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said officers should be exempt from the bill. Corrections officers, because of “unique stresses,” can retire at 55 without penalty. Under the bill, officers would work into their late 60s and 70s to “enhance their pensions,” Pinto said.

“Over time, one of the consequences of S.B. 1 will be an aging workforce within our prisons,” Pinto said. He opposes the bill’s provision to eliminate overtime from earnings considered to calculate pensions.

House Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, said he has talked to many members and reached consensus that “the problem with the pension system lies at the structure of it as a (guaranteed) benefit plan that can be manipulated by political forces.” He said the bill won’t affect benefits earned by current employees but would change benefits “going forward, which I think is legitimate.”

Madison Russ is an intern with the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents’ Association. Reach her at russmad@sas.upenn.edu.

Categories: News
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.