Shortly after Gov. Tom Corbett announced his proposed 2013-14 budget, the Pennsylvania State Education Association criticized his plan to change retirement benefits for teachers and state workers.
“It’s a built-in disaster,” said Frank Santicola, communications director of PSEA’s southwest regional office.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, had similar thoughts, noting the Legislature had acted four years ago to reform pensions with passage of Act 120. If given another couple of years, he believes the pension fund would be sustaining. Santicola agreed, saying the act gives the state a $26 billion savings over ten years. “But the governor’s saying ‘let’s dump it,’” he said.
Corbett is proposing a defined contribution plan for new employees, changing the benefit formula for current workers and limiting contribution amounts. Retirees would not see any changes, but Fred Berestecky, president of the southwest PSEA and a teacher at Ringgold Middle School, believes Corbett’s proposals will affect those who plan to retire in a few years.
“I’ve paid into this for 37 years and was promised this. How can Corbett renege on another promise?” he asked.
As part of his $28.4 billion budget that does not include a tax increase, Corbett proposes increases of $90 million for education, but with previous budgets cutting $1 billion, local lawmakers said that is just one-tenth of what was lost in the last two years.
Santicola predicts this will be the third year school boards will have to make up deficits, and that, added Berestecky, forces districts to cut educational programs, or ask students to pay for field trips and extracurricular activities.
“We experienced local property tax increases almost across the board under his watch, and he seems intent on adding more,” state Rep. Peter Daley, D-California, said of Corbett.
The governor has proposed privatization of state liquor stores and putting funds from that sale into education.
Daley called the linking of the liquor system to “short-term education funding” a “cynical, starkly political strategy.”
Lawmakers noted privatization means the loss of jobs for Pennsylvanians.
Pam Snyder, D-50th District, did credit Corbett with proposing fairer funding for human services but added she was” extremely disappointed” by his refusal to opt in on Medicaid expansion.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, criticized the governor for continuing to side with special interests groups.
“And he had the pure nerve to refer to Act 13 as the ‘most comprehensive environmental and safety regulations on gas drilling in the nation,’ which might be funny if it wasn’t so damn disingenuous, infuriating and borderline delusional,” he said.
Solobay predicted there would be dramatic changes to the budget before it is adopted by the General Assembly by June 30.