HARRISBURG - The House of Representatives has canceled plans to return next week to vote on bills, sentencing several measures to certain legislative death for this session, including one meant to blunt impending sharp spikes in the state's pension payouts.
In a memo to members, House Speaker Keith McCall (D., Carbon) announced his decision to cancel the voting session, but did not explain his reasons. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
But his decision means that the House will not debate a bill that aims to delay and reduce a projected multibillion-dollar spike in payouts for Pennsylvania's pension systems for state employees and public school teachers, despite Gov. Rendell's urging.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Rendell called the bill "too important to delay" and urged the House to return for at least one day to vote on the measure.
The pension bill, Rendell wrote in a letter to House leaders, would save the state $16 billion in payments over the next 25 years.
"The more quickly the legislature returns to enact legislation which will stabilize the pension obligations, the sooner the commonwealth will realize cost savings," the governor wrote.
The two-year session of the General Assembly expires Nov. 30. Any bills that have not passed and been signed by the governor will have to be reintroduced and go through the legislative process from scratch when the new session begins in January.
Despite Rendell's prodding, as well as calls from a handful of House members to return, House Democratic leaders said Friday they had no plans to do so.
They said they believed the pension bill was a good one, but had a problem with what they said was the Senate's unconstitutional decision to tack onto the bill a provision to create a so-called independent fiscal office. The office would act as an outside check on the governor's revenue projections and spending reports.
In adding the independent fiscal office to the pension bill, the Senate violated the so-called single-subject rule of the state constitution, House Democrats said. That, in turn, would leave the measure open to legal challenge.
"We do need pension reform," said State Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), noting that the House passed the pension bill over the summer and sent it to the Senate, where it languished until last month. "But I do not believe they should try to take an entire brand-new agency and put it in a piece of legislation and then ask at the last minute that we suddenly pass it."
Evans and other Democrats said the issue could be taken up first thing in January.