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Opinion

Pa.'s public pensions: Runaway gravy train

| Wednesday, May 16, 2012, 6:14 p.m.

With this year's burdensome $1.1 billion cost of Pennsylvania's runaway state-and-school-employees pension train on track to rise to a ruinous $4 billion in 2016, it's time to slam on the brakes.

This gravy train has been accelerating since 2001. That's when lawmakers passed a 25-percent increase in state and school employee pensions under a deal that got them their own 50-percent pension hike. As a result, 658 such pensioners now collect more than $100,000 annually, up from 253 in 2007.

Some get more than $300,000 a year. That's a stinging blow to taxpayers -- especially with Pennsylvania's mean household retirement income at $18,240 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau -- and a level of largess they simply can't sustain.

Pennsylvania can't legally cut such benefits for current employees or retirees. But it can switch new hires from traditional, defined-benefit pensions to 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans -- and continue denying them the 2001 boost, as it has since 2011 began.

With Gov. Tom Corbett concerned but saying lawmakers likely won't act until next year, necessary urgency is lacking. The longer Harrisburg takes, the harder it'll be to stop this runaway train -- and the more taxpayers will suffer.

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