Share This Page

Pennsylvania Rep. rolls eyes at idea that pretax salary violates pledge

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 8:12 p.m.

The executive director of a conservative government-reform group says he's disappointed that state Rep. George Dunbar is contributing some of his pretax salary to a state-run retirement plan, but Dunbar insists he didn't break the group's pledge not to take a state pension.

Dunbar said he doesn't receive any state matching funds by participating in its deferred-compensation plan, and he maintains that he will not enroll to receive a pension.

Dunbar, 52, had been one of the legislators that the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania touted in the last couple of years on its website for signing its pledge to decline a pension. The Cumberland County-based nonprofit cited the pledge among the reasons it endorsed Dunbar, a Penn Township Republican, for election to a second term in the 56th District last fall.

But Leo Knepper, executive director of Citizens Alliance, said the group interpreted its pledge to mean that Dunbar and other signers wouldn't accrue time as members of the state retirement system. That accruement is a potential risk to taxpayers as the state wrestles with a pension shortfall of at least $41 billion, he said.

Knepper said Dunbar has “an outstanding voting record” and is “with us on all our issues,” but acknowledged disappointment with Dunbar's participation in the deferred-compensation plan. A recently retired legislator, Tom Creighton of Lancaster County, decided to sign up for a pension after saying he wouldn't, Knepper said.

“I have no reason to doubt Rep. Dunbar's character, but it's just more an issue of I've seen it go bad before,” Knepper said. “There's no bad blood or anything between us. It's just we read the agreement one way, and he read it another way.”

Dunbar said he checked a box on a Citizens Alliance questionnaire in 2010 saying he would decline a pension but also wrote that he would accept a change from a retirement plan that guaranteed a set, annual payment to a 401(k)-style plan such as those in the private sector.

Dunbar said he never approved the group's promotion of his signing the pledge, and he never went out of his way to publicize it. Nonetheless, he said, he doesn't think he violated the pledge.

An accountant by trade, Dunbar said he thinks participating in the state plan is “good tax planning,” but that the interest is only 3 percent or 4 percent a year on the $4,000 to $5,000 he contributes annually.

If he had to do it over again, Dunbar said, he still would have written his explanation about reforming pensions on the questionnaire but not checked the box. Citizens Alliance donated $1,000 to Dunbar's 2010 campaign but didn't contribute to his re-election run.

“I think they have some egg on their face because they put my name on that, so they use me as a scapegoat, but I don't have anything against CAP,” Dunbar said.

Dunbar said he has followed through on a campaign pledge not to accept a per diem for legislative session work in Harrisburg, although he accepts reimbursements for hotel stays while working in the capital.

He said he also doesn't take a state-paid car and refuses the automatic annual salary increases.

“I make a lot of sacrifices, but I feel like, ‘Why do I even have to answer the question (about the pledge)?'” Dunbar said.

Since taking office, Dunbar has advocated moving legislators onto so-called defined contribution plans. He co-sponsored a bill in the last legislative session and has signed on to co-sponsor another bill this year by state Rep. Tim Krieger (R-57).

“The legislature should do it first,” Dunbar said. “We should lead by example.”

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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.