On transparency, more clarity needed

An article in Monday’s edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette by journalists with Spotlight PA and the Philadelphia Inquirer shines a light on a troubling matter — to which there are two distinct aspects that should give readers concerns.

The state has known its pension system is plagued with financial woes and has known since April. Of course, a shortfall spurred by poor investment practices is one cause for concern, as Pennsylvania’s already strapped taxpayers may have to dig into their wallets and pocketbooks to make up the difference.

But a second matter also deserves attention: Officials with the pension system suspected the numbers were questionable as early as the summer of 2020, nearly a year before it became public knowledge, and opened an internal, non-criminal investigation.

Then, because of the “investigation,” officials decided they were exempt from transparency and public disclosure standards. The questionable nature of the pension system’s figures remained secret for nearly a year.

To this day, according to the article in Monday’s Sun-Gazette, the Public School Employees’ Retirement System has not explained the nature or origin of the mistake in the calculations. Internal memos are opaque, implying some months of data went unaudited.

The Inquirer has pursued right-to-know requests, which the retirement system and its consultants have fought every step of the way.

As murky as the immediate situation remains, it clearly illustrates that greater clarity is needed in right-to-know and transparency laws. The state Legislature should consider spelling out, in unambiguous wording, that these laws apply to the public pension systems and that internal, non-criminal investigations are not cause for declining to be transparent with public money.


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