The Berks-Mont News (

OpEd: Providing pension benefits to workers going forward is not the problem

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dear Editor,
Sen. Mike Brubaker in his Jan. 9 column expresses support for legislation pushing public workers like me (a Science and Social Studies teacher at Twin Valley Middle School) out of defined benefit pensions and into a 401(k)-type defined contribution system.
I agree with Sen. Brubaker that this issue poses a significant fiscal problem for the Commonwealth. But even if teachers, nurses, police and other public employees stopped earning credit for additional pension benefits tomorrow, the Commonwealth would still have a pension debt of over $40 billion in unfunded liability, which will have to be paid off. Thatís because the cost of providing pension benefits to workers going forward is not the problem. The pension debt for benefits already earned by workers was created over a 12-year period by investment losses caused by two recessions, and a system of underfunding by employers that was put into place by previous politicians.
The senatorís proposal would actually increase costs to taxpayers. It forces the pension system to pay off the existing debt over a much shorter period of time and will cause the employer contribution rate to soar even higher..
Alaska passed legislation to close its teacher plan to new hires when the employer pension rate hit 16 percent in 2005. The law was passed to save money for taxpayers, but the employer contribution rate in Alaska today is now 53.02%. Conversion to a 401(k)-type plan does not allow the pension system to escape debts already incurred.
The 2010 Pension Reform law reduced pension benefits for public workers and raised the retirement age in order to save Pennsylvania taxpayers $33 billion over the next 30 years. The law reduced public employee pension benefits and raised the retirement age for new employees. Now politicians need to fulfill their promise by paying off the employer debt and honoring the commitments they made.
Jerry Wilczynski
West Lawn, PA