Tom Wolf’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month

wolf03z-601New Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is off to a rip-roaring start! In just one month on he job he has …

  • Fired a well-respected Republican staffer appointed by Former Governor Tom Corbett to manage the Office of Open Records.
  • Advised that he will refuse to issue death penalty warrants until the State Legislature files an anticipated report on its use. Anticipation is the moratorium will morph into a full ban, displeasing law enforcement personnel who saw two State Troopers gunned down – one fatally – in a pre-meditated ambush last year.
  • Scrapped Healthy PA, scrapping negotiations with the Obama Administration to expand Medicaid coverage – in accordance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – that sought more favorable terms for a State already paying the highest costs for any state for Medicaid coverage.  The Medicaid ACA expansion mandate will not be fully funded by the Federal Government in future years.
  • Reversed a policy allowing for the removal of natural gas assets lying beneath State Park lands.
  • Announced plans to tax natural gas extractions by an effective rate of 7.5% while doing away with the State’s Impact Fees that went to compensate local communities for wear and tear on local infrastructure.

As the chief executive of a cabinet-making company, Wolf would be expected to have the patience of a mayfly.  In a private, for-profit industry, who could blame a responsible manager?  Sloth makes for poor reaction times; and an overabundance of forbearance can render one an unimportant player in private industry where competition for resources is keen.

But what does one make of Mr. Wolf’s propensity for shooting from the hip, and over the heads of the very legislative bodies from which he will no doubt expect cooperation some day?  When will he realize he needs them to cash the checks his actions are writing?

It’s an interesting conundrum for the new Wolf on the block! But it only gets better – maybe scarier is the better word – if you’re a hard-working Pennsylvanian watching your disposable income shrink each and every year.

Rumor has it, Governor Wolf will propose an assortment of tax increases on top of those tax increases already announced on the natural gas industry.  Pennsylvanians could be looking at increases in the state income tax (currently 3.07%) and in the state’s 6% sales tax.

The tradeoff might be a reduction in Property Taxes, although certainly not a dollar-for-dollar offset of any potential increases in the income and sales taxes.  The result?  Higher taxes for working Pennsylvanians!

One winner, however, would be corporations, which might see the 9.9% corporate tax rate cut in half!  This move could be in response to the corporate raiding party Florida Governor Rick Scott led into Pennsylvania last week, as he smelled blood in Pennsylvania’s business tax pool.

States are always looking to purloin businesses from other states, especially where the business environment isn’t quite as favorable.  That’s a sad statement on views of the state from outside Pennsylvania, especially when the new Governor has made it quite clear that he intends to raise taxes, but will not consider needed public pension reform or the sale of Pennsylvania’s antiquated state store liquor distribution system.

carterAnd as if that’s not enough to curl your checking and savings account, consider this:  You are the reason Pennsylvania is not a better run, more self-sustaining, attractive place to live!

Why?

You have very low self-esteem!

Oh my God, I just realized … We may have elected the second coming of Jimmy “Malaise” Carter … former Governor of Georgia and perhaps the weakest President to serve the country since James Buchanan!

Sure, it’s bad enough that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker can be heard snorting a laugh at Governor Wolf’s self-esteem assessment at the National Governor’s Association (NGA) no less.  Baker undoubtedly made note to organize a job-raiding party into Pennsylvania as soon as he gets back to Boston!

Check out the video below and note Baker’s involuntary snort.  It’s always a bad sign when the new guy in the NGA has to declare “That wasn’t a laugh line.”

Uh oh ….

http://www.c-span.org/video/?c4528850/tom-wolf-2015-national-governors-association

Governor Jerry Brown Moonbeam-1

Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown (CA)

If it wasn’t bad enough that our fledgling Governor made those remarks in front of a roomful of other Governors, he added this little tidbit:

If a space alien visited the United States and was given a list of the assets of each state, “that alien would look at the 50 sheets of paper and say, ‘Pennsylvania must be the dominant state. Obviously it’s the dominant state.’ “

Wonderful … Governor Malaise and Governor Moonbeam all rolled into one! Well, if I didn’t have low state-esteem before, I certainly have it now …

Police Academy 19

1626For 19 times the police departments of Horsham and Hatboro, Pennsylvania have presented a seminar-type forum know as the Citizens Police Academy.  Having heard several rave reviews of the program, its organization, and presentation, I decided to register and take a look at what our local law enforcement types do and how they do it.  There are local CPAs in surrounding communities as well, such as Abington, Cheltenham, as well as both regionally and nationally.

This past Wednesday night was our first session.  And although the first session was by necessity a bit dry and full of background information and program objective, several interesting factoids were presented that would make the under-educated (police service-wise) go, “Hmmmm …”

If subsequent sessions appear to be nearly as interesting as I think they might, I intend to share some of my experiences and lessons-learned with you.  I will not promise to do so each week; but I will not let anything of value out.

By way of full disclosure I reveal the following.  I have several former and current officers in my family, including one who retired from a command position in a fairly large police department out west.  Currently, I have one extended family member serving as a patrol officer (last time I checked) in Wilmington, Delaware.

The objective of the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) are fairly obvious.

  • Improved community relations
  • Improved public safety
  • Crime prevention through the elimination of Opportunities to commit crime

PA-HorshamTwpPDOf course, the primary goal is an outreach to its citizens as a way of fostering familiarity with police roles and techniques, an understanding of what police can and cannot do, as well as a forum for citizens to learn how to prevent the most common criminal acts and how local police will react and handle those situations.  The underlying theme is to promote a tighter relationship between the community and the police, and to encourage greater participation by everyday citizens in community.

Personally, I find it to be an excellent way to show support for local law enforcement as well as taking an interest in the important role they play in making our community a safer, more attractive place to live.

My class has roughly 20-25 attendees on the first night, coming from both Horsham and Hatboro.  For those not familiar with the two communities, they are located very closely though they do not physically border each other.  The township of Upper Moreland separates the two by a thin piece of land, known by some as “the dog leg”.  However the two communities share a common school district, known appropriately enough as the Hatboro-Horsham School District.

I live in Horsham.  But in a strange quirk of U.S. Postal Service zip-coding, my residence holds a Hatboro zip code.  (Not sure how that fits the narrative here, but there ya go!)

You want to do what?!?   (generic CPA photo)

You want to do what?!?
(generic CPA photo)

Our first class was mostly a familiarization session, with some random facts and an opportunity to check out the routine equipment carried and used by today’s officers.  Most of this was interesting in a hands-on way, being able to feel the heft of the expandable baton or noticing that their sidearm ammunition used hollow-point bullets or imagining what it feels to have 50,000 volts of taser hitting your muscles from an effective range of 25 feet.

Does this come in pink? (generic CPA photo)

Does this come in pink?
(generic CPA photo)

Future classes will include patrol functions, a session on District Courts, use of force, crime scene and homicide investigations (CSI), the FBI, terrorism, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), K-9 programs, and drug awareness.

Some other random tidbits picked up in our first session:

  • Although Pennsylvania is an open carry” state, as soon as you enter a vehicle with your weapon, it is considered to be “concealed” for the purposes of requiring a Concealed Carry permit.
  • The average police shooting last 3-6 seconds from a distance of 3-6 meters where 3-6 rounds are fired.
  • Police officers “walk through” every school in the Hatboro-Horsham SD at least once a day.
  • Hatboro will be celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015!

More to follow …

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane indicted on criminal charges!

Now admit it … How many of you were expecting an brutal excoriation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder?  If you did, you obviously do not live in the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania!

If you did, you might have immediately associated the above title as one of the traits now commonly attributed the Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

Kane won election to the post of AG quite handily in 2012, even receiving an in-person endorsement appearance by former President Bill Clinton. Heck, even I crossed party lines to vote for her, in my long-held belief that having an qualified opposition party member holding certain positions in government (e.g. AG, Comptroller) is not a bad way to keep an eye on the majority party hen house.

In this case, it was a monumental mistake in judgment on my part!

Kane has served only as an Assistant District Attorney in Lackawanna County.  That does not – in and of itself – preempt the possibility that she was qualified and could serve admirably.  But there other rumblings during the election about just how much litigation experience she had, which also by itself does not predict incompetence.

Regardless, the important thing now is that she has proven to be so far in over her head that even PA Democrats, including fellow Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, are looking in her direction with WTF? looks on their faces!

Almost immediately after taking office, Kane shut down a years-long PA AG investigation into political corruption in the Democrat bastion of Philadelphia.  The probe, using a turned informant, caught five local pols, including four State Representatives and a Traffic Court judge, taking cash payments or jewelry, on 400 hours of TAPE (!) for votes or contracts!

The problem?  Kane was in a feud with the investigation’s former prosecutor, Frank G. Fina, who, having identified a conflict-of-interest for Kane’s management of the case, had bundled up the evidence and forwarded it to federal prosecutors for their consideration.

Fina was already in Kane’s crosshairs for his connection the Jerry Sandusky (Penn State University football) pedophilia investigation, which Kane used as the pointy spear in her campaign for the state AG job.  She alleged politically-motivated foot-dragging by the State AG’s office at the direction of Governor Tom Corbett, who sat on the PSU Board of Governors. (Those allegations were independently disproved in a subsequent probe commissioned by AG Kane.)  When Kane took office she had her staff appropriate the hard drives and all files in Fina’s possession, then took the unprecedented steps of interfering in Fina’s professional interactions after he left and joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

And this is where it gets really juicy!

When pressed by critics and the media for an explanation for dropping what appeared to be a pretty solid chance for prosecutions, Kane first claimed the probe was racially targeted (All the subjects were black.); then she claimed other prosecutors had told her it was “unprosecutable” then she simply said that anyone who challenged her view was “sexist”, playing the “good old boys” network.

The only findings supporting the “unprosecutable” claim came from the federal prosecutors’ undefined decision not to accept the case as forwarded by Fina and another DA’s opinion that was based only on a summary prepared by Kane’s office!

The most egregious claim was the one on racism. Kane claiming that the lead prosecutor, an African-American, had advised that he was directed to target member of the city’s black caucus.  Claude Thomas, the investigator said no such thing was ever said; and the only “evidence” Kane would supply was a memo prepared by her staff AFTER she had made the claim.

At this point, Philly DA Williams, a fellow Democrat, came to the defense of his new employees, Fina and Thomas, who had come to work for him after Kane had let Fina go.

Williams challenged Kane’s claims on all counts.  So Kane threw the challenge back at Williams, daring him to take over the case and attempting prosecutions.  Williams promptly did, and so far has brought charges against two of the probe’s targets, with the Traffic Court judge accepting a plea deal for accepting a $2,000. Tiffany bracelet.

In another attempt to nail Frank Fina, Kane released a confidential grand jury memo on financial investigation into J. Whyatt Mondeshire, former head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.  Mondeshire was never charged or publicly acknowledged as a target of the grand jury; but that didn’t stop Kane (or her staff) from releasing the information to newspapers.  As a result, a grand jury, commissioned by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, is looking into the matter and the potential for criminal charges.

Kane’s worrisome defense?  She was a stay-at-home mom at the time of the Mondeshire probe, so the curtain of confidentiality didn’t apply to her!  Yep, that’s a top-flight legal mind right there!

Of course, Kane – for all the legitimate questions and challenges thrown her way – continues to double-down on her defense of her head-scratching, almost unconscionable positions by attacking even more!  Her latest foible was to conduct a full review of the Corbett Administrations e-mail archives, after it was revealed that inappropriate and pornographic content was shared among some working in the AG office and in other segments of the State’s justice system.

Not necessarily a bad initiative to take, even if it ensnared a few Democrats along the way, such as tough law-and-order Supreme Court Justice, Seamus McCaffrey.  The only problem is that many viewed the effort as a thinly-veiled attempt to silence critics by threatening to reveal the details of their e-mail histories.

Yet Kane even managed to muff the punt once again, by claiming her review found instances of child pornography, which were quickly walked back by her own staff spokesperson almost as soon as Kane uttered the words.  Media reviews did in fact find memes and pictures of children, but they were clearly not pornographic in nature!

For a State, recently depicted as one of the most corrupt state governments in the U.S., yet which rarely considers the removal of officials from office under almost any circumstances, it is quite telling that the State Legislature is throwing around the “I word” …

And now today, the grand jury convened to review the actions of Kathleen Kane’s Attorney General’s office has returned an indictment for criminal charges of perjury and contempt of court.  The meteoric rise of the politically gifted is often only exceeded by the speed of their fall!

 

 

 

Water contaminants and NAS-JRB Willow Grove

nas-jrb-signWhen first I heard the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority (HWSA) was compelled to remove three water wells located near the NAS-JRB Willow Grove property due to the presence of Perfluorinated Compounds in tested ground water, I really wasn’t all that concerned.  My home doesn’t use well water – or so I thought; and since those affected wells were taken off-line, all would be “well”!

Well, I was half-right.

In July 2014 routine water sampling revealed the presence of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) in HWSA groundwater wells located in close proximity to the mostly abandoned airbase. The HWSA made the proper decision to take two wells (26 & 40) off-line, effectively removing them from the water supply.  In addition, the U.S. Navy will continue to sample monitoring wells located on the NAS-JRB property and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested permission to test water from 200 private wells in Horsham.

Where I was wrong was my assumption that water from those wells affected by the presence of PFOS/PFOA would not have made it into my family’s drinking water.  My misapprehension was the result of a total ignorance of well water usage and how heavily Horsham relies on it to meet local needs.

I attribute said ignorance to my life as a “city boy” before moving to Horsham in the late ’90s.  What I knew about Philadelphia’s water supply was limited to its reliance on reservoirs located as far away as New York state and the intriguing notion of water releases from these NY reservoirs into the Delaware River that actually raise the river’s level as the swell of out-of-state water pushes down the river to huge intake valves located in the City.

Needless to say, that water is heavily treated and is reputed to be one of the best in quality nation-wide.

news148608122014110441Despite my rather sheltered perception of local water usage, I decided to attend the Navy’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) public information meeting, held at Horsham’s community center on October 7.  I learned a lot at this session, particularly how little I really knew about Horsham’s water supply.  My Big Aha! moment was the learning that all of Horsham’s water wells feed the entirety of the Township as opposed to my assumption that local wells feed only those users in that particular well’s immediate vicinity.

Suddenly the presence of these Emerging/Unregulated Contaminants in any local well took on an entirely new meaning!

Allow me to share what I learned from an hour of asking questions; listening to explanations; and trying to digest the mind-numbing bureaucratic ecological science conscientiously provided by the good folks of the U.S. Navy BRAC office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

  •  Until the discovery of PFOS/PFOA, Horsham Township through the Horsham Water and Sewer Authority (HWSA) drew all required water through a system of 15 strategically placed wells serving 103 miles of distribution piping to over 7000 customers (6500 residential).  These wells feed the entire system, not just those users located in close proximity to any single well (as I had thought).  Five elevated tanks provide pressure-leveling and emergency reserves (e.g. fire-fighting).
  • PFOS/PFOA are man-made salts used in a variety of consumer and industrial applications, such as in water-proofing clothing and fabric, non-stick cookware, food packaging and – most importantly to Horsham’s situation – in fire-fighting foam.  They are persistent in the environment, meaning they break down very slowly. PFOS/PFOA are considered “emerging contaminants” because methods of testing in groundwater were only recently developed and insufficient research exists on their long-term effects on organic systems.
    • Because of its widespread use and proclivity for bonding to proteins, PFOS/PFOA can be found in every person to some level.
    • Little is known about the long-term effects to low-level exposure in drinking water.  The EPA continues to study prevalence and toxicity to determine safe drinking water limits.
    • EPA developed and issued a Provisional Health Advisory Level (HAL) in order to minimize high-level exposures and to ensure detection where testing is required.  The HAL and new testing methods, instituted in 2013, discovered the contamination and triggered the removal of Horsham Wells 26 & 40 from the water-supply network.
  • epaThe source of the contamination appears to be the wide-spread use of PFOS in fire-retarding/fighting foam used to suppress flames from airplane crashes.  The foam was used world-wide to fight such fires.  Although actual plane crashes were rare at the NAS-JRB site, the foam was most liberally used in fire-fighting training exercises.  Three other wells near the base are also being monitored for producing contaminant levels below the HAL limits.
  • PFOS/PFOA are no longer legally produced in the U.S.  Some usage is still allowed in a few, limited, high-tech applications where no known alternatives are yet available.  Efforts are being made to eliminate their use completely by 2015.
  • Studies suggest PFOS/PFOA may cause elevated cholesterol levels and low infant birth weight.  Research showed that in large doses, they caused developmental, reproductive, and liver effects in animals.  Health effects of long-term and low-level exposure are not well-known.  Blood tests are available, but tend to be inconclusive and unable to predict individual health issues.
fig2

Firefighting foam in use

Although stories such as these tend to raise a community’s anxiety level when we are constantly bombarded with news stories about everything that is bad for you, all available science and information concludes that Horsham’s drinking water is safe for consumption!

The U.S. Navy, always responsive to issues arising from the BRAC decision to close the base, continues to monitor wells near the airbase to determine the extent of any contamination and to further identify sources.  The Navy is also reimbursing Horsham for any purchases of replacement water supplies.  The HWSA is looking at options for permanent replacement of water capacity lost to the well shutdowns.

My takeaways from this session and from my own reactions to the information presented are these:

  • Horsham Township’s water is safe to drink!
  • The Township and the U.S. Navy (My employer in an entirely unrelated capacity.) continue to be extremely responsive and responsible when it comes to issues of concern with the airbase shutdown and redevelopment, particularly the presence of industrial contaminants resulting from airbase operations.
  • Although homeowners should take advantage of the free EPA well-testing offer, it’s probably wise to hire an independent test service for a second, most assuredly objective opinion.  Always best to double-check the checkers.
  • The worst case exposures to perflourinated compounds (PFC) were recorded in communities that lived downstream of plants that manufactured PFCs or used them to produce other products back in the day when waste products were routinely drained into natural water sources.

None of these attempts at cautious optimism for the quick action taken  change the fact that some were exposed to unhealthy chemicals due to a historical ignorance of industrial pollutants, their effects, and a casual disregard for the environment.  The fact that the pollutant was discovered offers little relief when research has yet to determine what what the long-term effects might be.

logo-2012My observations from the presentations given by the U.S. Navy’s BRAC office, as arranged through the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority (HLRA), that I have attended are that all parties involved in the BRAC process – including the EPA – are fully engaged in the sensitive subject of industrial pollutants and their cleanup.  BRAC law requires that all pollutants be removed or sufficiently mitigated before the local authority is granted control of the NAS-JRB property.

The current issue is an example where testing was initiated once a reliable method had been developed, and protective measures taken as soon as the problem was discovered.  At a time when it is often difficult to put one’s trust in government institutions, this relationship at least appears to be working to protect both the people of Horsham and our future well-being as it relates to managing the old Navy base at Willow Grove.

Insofar as the airbase redevelopment is concerned, the discovery is hardly a surprise.  The potential for pollution from airbase firefighting operations was recognized early on in the BRAC-driven redevelopment process.  The possibility of other hazardous substances being found at some point in the future can not be entirely dismissed.

Why Pennsylvania needs Public Sector pension reform

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Governor Corbett discusses pension reform in Dresher

Last week I had an opportunity to attend one of Governor Tom Corbett‘s mini-town hall meetings on Pennsylvania‘s precarious public pension situation.

The Governor is spending a lot of time this Summer pushing the need for public sector pension reform to improve the State’s financial health and put a lid on spiraling property taxes.  The problem he is facing is that the Pennsylvanians who pay taxes do not view Pension Reform as a problem let alone a problem-with-high-priority.

Much of this disconnect comes from the plain fact that most voters do not understand how State pensions work; how much they cost; or how they affect the other real problems with which my fellow Pennsylvanians can readily identify.

Recent polls (Quinnipiac University 2013, Franklin & Marshall 2014) found that Pennsylvanians recognized Unemployment, the Economy, Education, and Taxes as the biggest problems being faced in the Keystone State. These opinions are even more disconcerting from a taxpayer’s point-of-view, because it illustrates a very basic fact about the magnitude of the pension problem …

Few appreciate how the State’s pension mess plays into the perceived problems in Education, Taxes and the Economic Health of Pennsylvania.

For that you must look at the numbers.

  • $47,000,000,000. (billion with a capital “B”) … The current pension funding gap in Pennsylvania
  • $65,000,000,000. (also with a “B”) … The projected pension gap by 2019.
  • 63 cents of every $1 in revenue … 63% of PA State revenue currently goes to cover State pension responsibilities
    • That is, $2 Billion per year, all covered by PA tax payers
  • $13,000. … The amount each Pennsylvanian would have to pay to cover the current pension fund gap.

State-pensionsForty-one percent (41%) of the annual State budget goes to Education funding.  Another 40% goes to support Health and Human Services (and yes, that’s BEFORE you factor in the potential of accepting ObamaCare’s proposed Medicaid expansion, which will be funded by the Federal Government to only 90% of costs after 2016) …

The budget percentages for Education and HHS are equally important in understanding the overall picture.  Why?

For one, they illustrate the impact both Education and Social Services have on the State budget.  When you spend 81-82% of your budget in two specific areas, it does not leave much room for the other good things State government can do.  These huge obligations place the State in a financial straight jacket.  Pension costs make up a significant burden to school districts and public healthcare providers insofar as those costs are a subset of whatever funding is provided by the State.

As an example, when a School District receives its annual budgeted funding, they must – each and every year – immediately set aside a significant portion of that funding to be applied towards that school district’s allotment of pension coverage.  As pensions costs grow, school districts are forced to pay more and more for their pension service; meaning they will have less and less to spend on actual education.

pension-reformSo when you speak of those “real problems” facing Pennsylvania … Education, Unemployment, the Economy and Taxes … there is a genuine, behind-the-scenes connection between pension costs obligations and all those REAL problems.  And more importantly, to financing any solutions to those REAL problems.

So what’s State and local Government to do?  What tough choices do you make now?  Do you raise Property Taxes again?  Do you raise Corporate Taxes in a state which is already has the HIGHEST corporate tax rate in the country?  Or do you do something about the most easily identifiable and underlying problem?

As a taxpayer, this is a chilling reality.  If you subscribe to the theory that high taxes kill Economic Growth, raising Corporate Taxes is not the BEST alternative.  (And yes, that also goes for a Job Creator like the Natural Gas Industry.)  Neither is raising Property Taxes, which is what school districts must do to meet the growing pension budget hole.

Pension reform won’t lower current property taxes however.  Replacing pension plans does nothing to alleviate the pension obligations already facing the State and local school districts.  It’s a solution for the future, by putting a lid on rising property taxes by replacing an unsustainable pension structure with one that lessens the future burden on taxpayers!

If you are not yet convinced, take a look at recent examples in countries like Greece and Italy, where excessive pension costs drove cataclysmic threats to economic stability.  Or take a look closer to home …

CT Emanuel_Method_04.JPG

Chicago Mayor – and former White House Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emanuel

When uber-Liberal Rahm Emanuel left the cozy confines of The White House as President Obama’s Chief-of-Staff to become the Mayor of Chicago, the first major initiative he undertook was to tackle Chicago’s financially threatening pension problem.  To take a peek at what could happen to cities in Pennsylvania if leaders do nothing, look at what has happened in Detroit!

The Rahm Emanuel story is critically important for one reason many people might overlook.  It illustrates that this is not a problem restricted to one political party or the other.  Pension costs with all its ramifications – from taxes to education to health services to economic vitality – is a Democrat and Republican problem.

So what is the real problem with Pennsylvania’s nightmare pension scenario?  It’s reliance upon Defined-Benefit public pensions …

This is not a new problem, not in the pubic sector, not in the private sector, not in the manufacturing sector, not in the financial industry.  Individual companies, whole industries, other States, even the Federal Government have recognized the threat to financial stability presented by growing defined-benefit pension obligations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am employed in the Public Sector by the Federal Government since 1980.  In 1986 the federal government introduced a two-tier retirement system under the Federal Employees Retirement System Act of 1986.  The Act essentially grand-fathered all existing employees under the existing Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), while requiring all new employees – hired after the laws effective date – to participate in the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).  The reasoning behind the switch from a Defined-Benefit CSRS to a hybrid Defined-Benefit/Defined-Contribution plan was much the same in 1986 as it is now for Pennsylvania in 2014.

This is pretty solid framework for changing Pennsylvania’s Pension Problem.  Allow those already vested in current defined-benefit pensions alone.  Address a change in pension structure only towards new employees at all levels of government!

In the Federal Government, FERS provides its own two-tiered approach, consisting of a Defined-Benefit where a minimum government contribution is mandated.  Then the federal government fully matches any employee contributions up to 5% of salary (the percentage matched drops on additional employee contributions) made to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which acts essentially like a 401(k) with employees able to choose investment options of differing risk and return.

That the Federal Government is out in front of Pennsylvania on anything – by nearly three decades no less – should be more than a little troubling to Pennsylvania tax payers!  And this again is a problem whose responsibility falls squarely on BOTH political parties.

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

Former Gov Tom Ridge, not exactly the brightest light on pension sanity

In 2001 it was the Tom Ridge Republican administration that cut a foggy-headed deal with the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where both Democrats and Republicans agreed to significantly increase the pension benefits of Legislators, state workers, and teachers.  (Not surprisingly, those same Legislators all got fat pay increases as part of the deal!)  Then they compounded their stupidity by slashing the taxpayer contribution to service that very same pension obligation. 

It’s a case of an entire government turning a blind eye towards its very own economic future!

Changes to the way employee pensions are managed and financed have been rippling through the entire U.S. economy, most drastically of course in the private sector, where change depends not on the consensus of 250 State Legislators, who are so intimately tied to the very benefits economic reality demands must change.  It is virtually impossible – in this day and age – to find an employer who will provide an employee with a defined-benefit pension plan.

It’s a Republican-Democrat problem that will need both parties in the State Legislator to step up to the plate and get fixed.

Now, I’m not sure Governor Corbett’s approach is necessarily the best alternative for Pennsylvania’s particular pension situation. The devil is always in the details.  However, you must admire Corbett’s tenacity in pushing for pubic awareness of a problem very difficult to fully understand and always controversial … And for doing so during an election year!

That – my friends – is Leadership with all its risks and political exposures.  Like the national bi-annual conniption over Social Security insolvency, it’s always the first person who goes through the door that gets bloodied. 

Yet this is a problem to which even tax & spend liberal Tom Wolf has begun to awaken.  Oh wait a minute … That was for his furniture company, not necessarily the tax-paying citizens of Pennsylvania!

All politics aside, the message is clear.

If you live in Pennsylvania and believe that the REAL problems we face are Education, Taxes, and Economic Growth, you simply must recognize the threat that growing pension costs pose to the economic health of The Keystone State.  Tell this story to your Pennsylvania neighbors.  Let your voice be heard by demanding your State Representatives and Senators act together with Governor Corbett to address pension reform NOW!