Pennsylvania Lawmakers Mull Taking Up Pension Reform During Lame Duck Session

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Tom Corbett has until January 20 before Tom Wolf takes over as governor of Pennsylvania. Corbett has spent the last year pushing for pension reform, but the proposed bills never gained traction in the legislature.

Now, a handful of lawmakers are considering quickly putting together and pushing through a pension reform bill — although the odds of it coming together so quickly are unlikely.

From the Pennsylvania Independent:

There’s still technically time for a final drive to pass legislation near and dear to conservatives. Whether lawmakers and outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett use it or just take a knee is the question.

State Sen. Jake Corman, the new Republican majority leader in his chamber, hasn’t ruled out having session days in the two weeks that fall between new lawmakers being sworn in Jan. 6 and Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf taking office Jan. 20.

But, Corman told the PA Independent on Monday, it’s “highly, highly unlikely” legislation as complicated as liquor privatization or pension reform could be ready to sign before Corbett leaves office.

“We may get them started,” said Corman, a Centre County Republican who chaired the Appropriations Committee before ascending to floor leader earlier this month.

For anything to get to Corbett’s desk before his term ends, the state House would also have to convene, and legislation would have to clear both chambers. There’s time for it to happen, but bills would have to move quickly.

State Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, the new House majority leader, has read about Corman’s comments, but said there have been no discussions in the House about a topic that’s quickly become political water cooler talk.

“It seems like an awful lot of folks are talking about it,” Reed said. “I think more folks outside the building than inside the building are talking about it at the moment.”

State Rep. Fred Keller, R-Snyder, said there has been “scuttlebutt” among rank-and-file lawmakers about the possibility of convening during the two-week period known as interregnum.

Keller would “absolutely” be in favor of it, he said, especially if pension reform is addressed. He also sees the controversial paycheck protection as possible legislation that could arise in the final weeks before Wolf takes over.

At least one lawmaker wouldn’t be on board with pushing through pension reform before Wolf takes officer. From the Independent:

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, has already sounded alarms that having a session before Wolf takes office would be “inappropriate, unprecedented and inexcusable.”

“The ill-conceived idea to empower and use an unaccountable governor in his last days in office to revive already rejected policies would be viewed as an act of desperation and a serious blow to reform,” Costa said in a written statement. “I would be very surprised if Governor Corbett would allow himself to be used by Republican leadership in this way.”

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Return From Break, But Pension Reform Remains On Backburner

Tom Corbett

Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to the capitol this week to convene for the fall legislative session. While they were out, Gov. Tom Corbett traveled around the state and continued to try to drum up public support for pension reform and his re-election.

But the pension reform bill currently in the House seems unlikely to go anywhere; lawmakers now have other bills on their mind. Reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Legislators returning today to the Capitol are expected to take up several bills during their month-long stint before the election, but there is little sign yet that the pension overhaul promoted by Gov. Tom Corbett will be among those headed to his desk.

House Republicans’ efforts to pass the legislation remaking retirement benefits for future state and public school workers consumed significant energy in the lead-up to the signing of the state budget in July. Mr. Corbett urged legislators to send him the bill, which would limit the defined pension benefit while adding a 401(k)-style plan, but with Democrats opposed, Republicans in the House were unable to rally enough votes from their own ranks.

The Republican governor embarked on a statewide tour to emphasize the costs of the existing systems, while House Republicans say they met to discuss pensions throughout the summer.

“We’re still within striking distance,” Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said last week.

If the bill were to clear the House, it would face another hurdle in the Senate, where members instead approved a bill to move elected officials from the traditional pensions systems to 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.

The bills that are taking precedence over pension reform include a proposal to increase taxes on cigarettes and legislation surrounding ride-sharing programs such as Uber and Lyft.

Democrats are also working on raising the state’s minimum wage and securing more education funding.


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