State pensions: An embarrassing mess that must be fixed

The unfunded liability for the state pension system is $56.78 billion, according to a detailed story on the system in the Sun-Gazette.

That’s the difference between the defined benefits owed retired and due-to-retire state public employees and what the pension accounts are worth.

“They’re going to get their money, the question is, who is going to pay for it,” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland said. He termed the situation with the underfunded state pension system a “a trainwreck headed our way and it’s not going to be good.”

Somehow, David Fillmore, executive director of AFSCME Council 13, believes the state should “stay the course” with its funding and payout system for public employee pensions.

Stay the course?

Tell that to taxpayers who will be the ones hit with the burden of getting the pension system back on its fiscal feet following decades of irresponsibility by the overseers of it. Tell that to private sector employees who can only dream of the benefits and pension setup public employees are blessed to have.

Frankly, it’s insulting and negligent that Pennsylvania’s elected officials and public sector union leaders have allowed the pension system to become underfunded to this degree.

The size of the pension indebtedness is a threat to the state’s ability in the future to meet the human services needs and constitutionally outlined responsibilities of state government if leaders “stay the course” regarding pensions.

We believe it’s time for the Legislature and Gov. Wolf to stop worrying about what’s politically correct and do something to reverse the ever-mounting pension liability.

Now.

If lawmakers and the governor are not happy with the investment work of private investment managers, they should fire them.

The next move is to get public employees hired now and in the future away from a defined benefits program and into a defined contribution plan similar to the 401-k plan most people in the private sector are under.

The state’s budget struggles in coming months will merely underline why these and other dramatic actions must be taken now regarding the state pension system.

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