What Tom Wolf’s Win Means For Pennsylvania Pensions

Tom Wolf

Tom Wolf and Tom Corbett had two very different visions for Pennsylvania’s pension system.  If newly-elected Governor Wolf attempts to reform the state’s retirement system, it will look very different than what Pennsylvania residents have experienced over the last few years under Corbett.

If Corbett had won, he would have pushed the legislature adopt a “hybrid” pension plan that incorporates qualities of a defined-benefit plan and a 401(k) plan.

Described by Institutional Investor:

In the 2013 legislative session, Corbett sought to pass pension reform as part of a package of three initiatives (the other two involved privatizing state liquor stores and a state transportation funding plan). Corbett’s pension plan would have enrolled future employees in a defined contribution plan and lowered future defined benefit payouts for current employees. Corbett’s office estimated that these changes would save the state $12 billion in employer contribution costs and $40 billion in plan costs over the next 30 years.


Corbett’s pension proposal did not pass the legislature. This June Representative Mike Tobash, a Republican, proposed a hybrid pension plan in which new employees would be enrolled in a combined defined benefit, defined contribution fund. This would start the state on the road to a DC system but lessen up-front costs by not shuttering the DB plan.


Almost immediately, Corbett came out and said he was in “full support” of Tobash’s plan. If reelected, Corbett says, he will call a special session of the General Assembly to tackle the pension problem. Opponents of the plan have taken to calling the plan the Corbett-Tobash pension plan.

But Tom Wolf doesn’t support the hybrid plan. What will the pension system under Wolf look like? He hasn’t offered much in the way of specifics, but he staunchly supports the state’s defined-benefit system. From Institutional Investor:

According to his campaign, Wolf “absolutely opposes changes to current employees’ pension plans, and he believes that a defined benefit retirement plan is the most effective tool for ensuring that our public workers have a financially secure retirement.” Wolf believes that to attract workers and create good private sector jobs, Pennsylvania must offer an attractive and competitive compensation package, which includes a defined benefit pension.

If elected, Wolf has said he will work with the legislature to find a solution to the pension-funding problem. But exactly what that solution might look like, with a governor so “absolutely opposed” to benefit cuts, remains to be seen. The General Assembly is likely to remain Republican, meaning the most probable scenario is a legislature favorable to benefit reform and a governor who is not. Unable to find a solution under four years of a pro-reform governor, a different approach maybe can work.

Pennsylvania’s pension systems are 63.9 percent funded, collectively. Pension liabilities have been the subject of several credit rating downgrades for the state.