State pensions: Solutions vary, but system must be reformed now

Pennsylvania has a pension problem.

It won’t be going away.

The future encumbrances to the state’s employees are simply outdistancing the available cash and investment infusion from state government.

And everyone has a viewpoint on how to solve the problem.

We believe all state employees even within shouting distance of retirement should get the same benefits that were in effect when they began employment.

That’s just fair.

We believe state employees hired now and in the future should be subject to something close to the 401k plans so prevalent in the private sector, with a lion’s share of the accumulated income left up to the employee and less coming from taxpayers.

The tricky part is solving the pension needs of the here and now without trampling the rights of current state workers.

The Corbett administration is pushing to involve current state workers in that solution, changing some of the formula for their pensions. That will probably result in a protracted legal battle.

The state may have to find another way to start reducing its pension shortfall before it becomes too weighty.

But no one can argue with the observation last week of Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.

Zogby said lawmakers need to reduce taxpayers’ share of payments into Pennsylvania’s major state pension funds in the next few years even if the rest of Gov. Tom Corbett’s pension-overhaul proposals bog down.

That’s a matter of economic reality. It’s also a reality that the state must address its pension crisis now.

It will only get worse if the sticky reform is put off.

We all need to keep that in mind before we get too critical of the push by the Corbett administration to make changes in the state pension plan part of this year’s budget discussion.