Close pension loophole

It’s a small matter in the state’s $49-billion unfunded pension issue, but one that deserves attention when lawmakers return to Harrisburg later this month.

Because of a 1939 ruling by the state attorney general, employees of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which represents the governing bodies of the state’s 500 school districts, can qualify for pensions through the Public School Employees Retirement System or PSERS.

At the time of the 1939 ruling, the organization had just hired its first full-time employee.

Today, 72 PSBA employees are enrolled in the pension system and 47 former PSBA employees are drawing retirement payments.

While that’s a small portion of the PSERS’s 600,000 members, we agree with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, who objects to their inclusion.

The school boards association is a private-sector organization whose employees includes registered lobbyists. Why should they be part of a taxpayer-funded pension plan for public employees?

“I don’t think they should be included in the state employees’ system,” Pileggi recently told PA Independent. “I think we can incorporate the resolution to that issue in whatever changes we make this fall.”

That sounds like a plan to address an inequity, especially since PSBA seems to be the only such organization in Pennsylvania with access to the state pension system for its employees.

Other groups that similarly represent local governments don’t have such access.

State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby, who has been the most vocal member of the Gov. Corbett administration pressing for pension changes, will work with lawmakers on the matter while focusing on the bigger-picture issues addressing long-term solvency of the pension plan, Zogby spokesman Jay Pagni said.

Corbett and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have discussed the need for a pension reform measure before next year’s budget, and their proposals are likely to generate considerable debate.

But the idea of ending PSBA’s access to the public pension system – a loophole that needs to be closed – should draw support and not take too much of the lawmakers’ time.

With such an easy decision, they can then focus on the harder task of addressing the solvency of the pension plan.