Pennsylvania Gov. Vows to Take Pension Reform to Public Vote

After more than a day of criticism from fellow state Republicans for allegedly failing to show leadership, Gov. Tom Corbett said Friday he has worked behind the scenes for long enough and will take his cause of pension reform to the public.

State legislators failed to address reform of public pensions in the 2014-15 state budget they presented to Corbett this week. On Thursday, he signed the $29.1 billion budget bill, but struck more than $72 million from the budget because the Legislature increased its own funding while declining his call to overhaul the retirement benefits of future state and school workers. The state faces a $1.5 billion deficit, in part because of those pension obligations.

Unless the legislature creates a new pension system that the state can afford, the state's residents -- and in particular, retirees and other people on fixed incomes -- will feel the pain, Corbett said. Under the current system, taxes would have to increase to pay for the additional obligations, he said.

"What they should care about is their property taxes, and that's what this is about," Corbett said of Pennsylvania residents during a tour of a Strip District company on Friday. "It starts with the driver, which is pensions."

State legislative leaders in both the House and Senate, which are both controlled by Republicans, have said they support public pension reform, but don't believe the state can afford Corbett's plan to transition to a 401(k)-style plan for new state and public school workers.

State House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, has said the House would try to vote on its own version of a pension bill, among other items, when it returns to session Aug. 4. That version could save employers $11 billion over 30 years, according to a retirement commission note.

On Friday, Turzai reiterated his call for Corbett to "use the bully pulpit" and take a greater leadership role to get reforms such as state liquor store privatization, reduction in the size of the Legislature and pension reform.

Turzai said the Republican leadership in the House has been able to work in a bi-partisan way to pass legislation in key areas only to have it stall in the Senate. Rather than criticizing the Senate, which also is controlled by Republicans, Turzai pushed for more leadership from the Republican governor.

"We've met and done what we said we were going to do when we took over the majority (in the House in 2011)," Turzai said during remarks in a news conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse on Friday. "We ask, what has the governor done from the bully pulpit to take a leadership role. ... We need the governor's help to get these things over the goal line."

Turzai characterized the legislative budget cut as a political move and said it would have little impact on any action in the House. He pushed aside any political rift with Corbett, who is facing a tough re-election battle with Democrat Tom Wolf, and said he would vote for Corbett.

He made it clear, though, that he would like to see more support from Corbett on the House's legislative agenda.

"The House has lead from the front," he said.

Corbett said Friday that it was his administration that first identified the public pension problem, and pushed for a solution to keep current programs intact without a need for tax increases to keep the state from sliding into deficit.

But while his administration has pushed for a fix, he doesn't have some of the same useful tools past governors were able to employ to win legislators' votes to their administrations' agendas, Corbett pointed out.

"You know what I don't have, because I campaigned against it, which is 'walking around money,'" he said in remarks at the Strip District company. "We don't have those levers of 'I need your vote, and I'm going to give you this project, and I want you to vote with me when I need it.'"

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