House ends pension debate by sending bill back to committee

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

Fifteen Republicans broke ranks and voted with a unanimous block of House Democrats to shut down debate on a pension bill Tuesday afternoon and send it back to committee.

It was an inglorious end to a two-week push from some House Republicans and Gov. Tom Corbett, who wanted to see changes to the state’s public pension systems that would have reduced long-term costs by about $11 billion. The House voted 107-96 to send the bill to the Human Services Committee, where it will likely remain until at least fall.

DIGIROLAMO ON THE HOUSE FLOOR WITH THE MOTION TO RE-COMMIT: State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo killed the state House’s effort to overhaul Pennsylvania’s public pensions – though he merely delivered the fatal blow to a proposal that seemed unlikely to survive.

State Rep. Gene Digirolamo, R-Montgomery, the chair of that same committee, led the push from the House floor.

He said the bill needed more time to be vetted and echoed Democratic concerns about the lack of public hearings on the pension plan — even though pension changes have been at the center of budgetary discussions for two consecutive budgets.

“What’s the rush?” he asked.

The vote was probably a final blow to pension reform efforts this session, as Digirolamo will be able to keep the bill in his committee for an indefinite period.

Democrats applauded the move, after months of standing unanimously opposed to any changes to the state pension systems.

“This proposal would do nothing to help fill the immediate state budget shortfall, but it would cruelly and harshly cut future pension benefits for thousands of working people,” House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said.

The next move likely belongs to Corbett, who said Monday night he was withholding his signature from the state budget because of concerns about the state’s pension situation.

“I will continue to work with the Legislature toward meaningful pension reform,” the governor said, noting that pension cost increases are consuming 60 cents of every new dollar in the budget this year.

The pension bill offered by the House was far from a complete fix to Pennsylvania’s $50 billion pension crisis — it would have created a new pension system for future state employees and public school workers with lower benefits and would have eventually reduced costs in the system — but the bill did little to ensure the state would stop it’s decade-long history of underfunding the pension systems.

In fact, some were pushing for more underfunding to free up more money in this year’s budget for other purposes.

It would have done nothing to change the benefits of existing employees and retirees, but still ruffled the feathers of public sector unions.

Though DiGirolamo is a Republican, labor unions have backed his re-election efforts and he is widely seen as one of the most moderate Republicans in the state House.

There were probably not enough votes to get a pension bill through the state House anyway, but Tuesday’s vote means it’s unlikely we’ll get to find out.

How did your representative vote? Full roll call available here.

Boehm can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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