Friday, September 18, 2009

Watered-Down Pensions Bill Passes Legislature

It's virtually over, but it's an interesting case study:

A bill that gives Pittsburgh a two-year reprieve from a state takeover of its pension system and authorizes Philadelphia to levy a 1 percentage point sales tax increase easily won Senate approval on Thursday.

The bill goes to Gov. Ed Rendell.

Rendell said he will sign it because the sales tax enables Philadelphia to avert a fiscal crisis and the layoffs of 3,000 city employees. (Trib, Brad Bumsted)

This blog came out in favor of the 2-year exemption Pittsburgh sought in order to attempt to avoid or ameliorate a state takeover, so by all means let's pop at least a little Cristal.

However, the Comet was also becoming suspicious of mysterious changes to "the language" that the House made in order to appease certain unions. If there were real unconstitutional threats to collective bargaining rights, that would be one thing -- but if we just gave up on reigning in costs or changing the imbalanced equation in any fashion, that would be something else.

Some out-of-town news accounts aren't even making mention of Pittsburgh's exemption, focusing instead on what was more controversial. That makes for interesting reading:

In a brief debate preceding the vote, Sen. Jim Ferlo criticized the House amendment that watered down many of the municipal-pension provisions the Senate wanted, including a mandatory freeze on pension benefits for current employees and reduced benefits for new hires for funds with the most serious financial problems.

Too many policymakers "want to buy the world an ice cream cone with no money to pay for it," said Ferlo, D-Allegheny, who said he voted for the bill largely because of the help it provides to Philadelphia. (Philly 57, Assoc. Press)

Costly political pandering = ice cream cones for the world? Where have we heard that before?

"What happened today was council essentially attempting to give an ice cream cone to the world, and we can't do that," Ravenstahl said. "It's irresponsible for council to enact or vote on amendments [to Act 47] that aren't really paid for." (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

So maybe that was a jab by Jim, or maybe it's just an expression that's popular in certain circles. We'll never know.

I wish I had been able to riddle out the dense language of the bill and what exactly it meant sooner. On the one hand, I feel like I need to congratulate Sen. Ferlo and several others who tried to exercise some serious discipline for as long as they did. On the other hand, I feel like the conversation about financial discipline vs. public employee constituencies never made it out from behind closed doors. Well, the employees definitely held their conversation out in public, but the budget hawks and taxpayer advocates never seemed to muster the courage to rally a forthright public argument until too late. And now the window of opportunity has passed.

For a little more on the politics of this, see the yellow-highlighted portion of P-G, Rich Lord.


  1. I'm pretty sure that PBR will file a defamation suit in regards to your inference that their fine, affordable product is watered down.


  2. Ferlo is a blowhard that is past his time. The protesters are descending on our City with his blessing and will cause substantial amounts of property damage. He, and every council member that watered down the security measures will need to be held accountable.