Yes, Governor, we have to do something about the state pension system.
The pragmatic question is: What do we do?
The political question is: Who pays the freight? Otherwise stated, "Whose pensions are affected?
The pragmatic answers might be fairly straight-forward: some combination of increased employee contributions, later retirement dates, perhaps even a conversion to a system of 401(k) plans that are common in the private sector.
But, in government, ultimately everything is political, and any solution will have to survive the cauldron of special interests and posturing that is endemic in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
So, let's get to our point: Any reform of the state pension system should start at the top, and that means the General Assembly itself, state judges and the administration. Those groups need to lead by example, by affirming at the outset that any changes in the state pension system will also affect them as well.
When pressed about whether prospects are good that either lawmakers or judges would accept fiddling with their own pensions, a representative of the governor's office referred reporters earlier this week to the response when the state judiciary was faced with a reduction of benefits a few years ago. Needless to say, it was not positive.
The General Assembly as well hasn't been proactive in making adjustments to its own plush retirement plan. For instance, Robert J. Mellow, recently retired from the legislature, receives an annual pension of almost $139,000. Frank Oliver gets about twice as much, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers United of America.
Yes, certainly, the future of public pensions in Pennsylvania must look different than they do now and in the recent past, but we believe to pass the political test, pension reform should begin at the top.