Both parties responsible for state’s huge deficit

Perhaps Robin Aurandt, writer of a recent letter to the editor (“Republican double talk has put us in this mess,” March 23) has forgotten that the governor of our commonwealth during the much maligned Bush years was none other than Democrat Ed Rendell.

Her partisan screed lacks many of the facts. The reality is that both parties share the blame for the problems with public pensions. She also needs to identify herself as a member of the Blair County Democratic Committee and appointee to the State Committee.

Full disclosure: Both she, as the result of the pension of her husband – a deceased PennDOT employee, and I, a retiree – derive benefits from State Employees Retirement System (SERS).

While I am no fan of Gov. Corbett, he did not cause state- funded pensions to be in jeopardy. For the past several years, under Rendell, the commonwealth has not paid the full cost of pension benefits accruing to current employees or paid down the systems’ unfunded liabilities.

After favorable investment returns in the 1990s, the costs to taxpayers to fund Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) and SERS were reduced significantly.

Instead of maintaining surpluses which translated into low costs to taxpayers, policy-makers decided to increase pension benefits for employees and themselves by tapping those surpluses over 10 years. Act 9 of 2001, signed into law by Gov. Ridge, was a tradeoff with Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).

The pension multiplier increased for those covered by PSERS and SERS from 2.0 percent to 2.5 percent and for the legislators from 4 percent to 5 percent. There was a slight increase in the employee contribution.

The collapse of the economy with the World Trade Center led to a decrease in the expected returns of the fund’s investments.

The abysmal state of our legislature is further evidenced with the 2005 pay raises that were almost foisted upon the citizens by the leadership of both parties and promptly signed into law by Rendell.

The raise increased legislators’ base pay from 16 percent to 34 percent depending upon their position. Combined with the pension increases of 2001, they stood to gain quite an increase in their retirement benefits.

Not only were Senators Jubelirer and Brightbill turned out of office in the 2006 primary by these “dastardly” Republicans, so were 10 Representatives.

Angered Democrats gave the boot to four of their own. The withdrawal of one representative of each party can be attributed to this scandal.

Bonusgate and corruption charges claimed Linda Bebko-Jones, Bill DeWeese, Brett Freese, Frank LaGrotta, Jane Orie, John Prezel, Stephen Stetler and Mike Veon, the only no vote in either house when the raise was repealed.

Before blaming, remove the partisan blinders that have restricted the view of the landscape. Then maybe we can have a real discussion about the problem at hand.

Joseph J. Ogershok Jr.