More than 6,000 Pennsylvania public school teachers have been laid off in the last few years. Rapidly rising pension costs have been one of the driving factors — clearly showing why pension reform is needed now (“State surplus may provide temporary relief for Pa. pension problems,” April 12 and TribLIVE.com).
But not according to government union leaders lobbying against reform. State pension costs are $69 million less than budgeted this year because of “smaller-than-expected payrolls” (i.e., teacher layoffs). Is this really the “encouraging news” that Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever says it is?
Mr. Keever continues, “(I)f there were little reason for lawmakers to support (Gov. Tom) Corbett's pension plan before, there's even less reason to do so now.”
But this one-year surplus is just a speck in the ocean of pension debt. Given the $29.5 billion liability in Pennsylvania's pension fund for school employees, we'd need a $69 million surplus every year for the next 427 years.
This temporary surplus should not be used as an excuse to leave the broken pension system intact. Instead, it should serve as a warning to those destined to feel the lasting effects of payroll cuts, including teachers and their students.
With a teacher retirement plan modeled after the 401(k), our schools wouldn't be mired in a pension-funding crisis at all. And we could have avoided mass teacher layoffs.
The writer is policy analyst and communications officer for the Commonwealth Foundation.