I am an employee of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with 30 years of service, having achieved a relatively high professional position in the civil-service system through promotions. I serve in a job I love and from which I have no intention of retiring, despite being eligible for a full pension in less than two years.
I am also a person with a long-standing and intense interest in state government, which has the greatest impact on our lives.
As debate swirls over our ungovernable commonwealth and its self-created pension calamity - with a fund deficit estimated at about $50 billion - I hope residents will understand and evaluate the matter armed with the facts.
Tom Corbett is the first governor who has sought to meaningfully address the problem since it was unconscionably signed into law by fake conservative Tom Ridge. The most liberal Democrat could not have done more to harm the state's fiscal future than Republican Ridge did with the stroke of his pen.
Subsequent governors and General Assemblies declined to make the necessary contributions to keep the fund afloat, and they allowed school districts to join them in their blissful ignorance, deferring contributions. Today and tomorrow, the piper is and shall be paid. Billions of dollars per annum will soon have to be devoted to fund promised pensions, triggering property-tax increases and, without question, future increases in broad-based state levies.
There was no rank-and-file clamor to boost pension plans that were already head and shoulders above anything offered in private industry. This was a measure propelled by greed, with the legislature seizing a retroactive 50 percent boost, 25 percent for rank-and-file state workers like me, and 25 percent for public-school teachers. Vast enhancements in legislative pensions provided a perverse further incentive for members to pursue lifelong service, which we know was anathema to the Founding Fathers. Frankly, the move also disregarded a provision of the state constitution that allows only salary and mileage payments to members of the legislature.
Ironically, many of those who voted to hike their retirement benefits by 50 percent remain in office today - including my state representative, John Maher - and are well-regarded by some. Corbett even endorsed Maher in his failed bid to become auditor general, the state's top fiscal watchdog. How could someone who not only helped set in motion the pension crisis, but also voted for the middle-of-the-night legislative pay grab, be the state's fiscal watchdog?
Unfortunately, government is one of those pursuits in which an individual may commit gross malfeasance that wrecks people's future knowing all the while that he will not be held accountable for his actions.
Today, an impasse continues to exist over how to address the pension time bomb. Some - including Tom Wolf, the Democratic candidate for governor - question whether there even is a crisis, and that attitude threatens to destroy us.
History will judge Corbett kindly on the pension issue. He sounded the alarm. He cannot be legitimately blamed for the General Assembly saying, "No, thanks. We will wait until the commonwealth teeters on the brink of insolvency to discuss it."
I am pleased that I have no plans to retire, because I cannot be certain that there will be enough money to provide me with a generous pension benefit that is unsustainable.