As lawmakers in Harrisburg get serious about crafting a new state budget with a June 30 deadline approaching, they have an opportunity to also take action to address the top financial problem facing the commonwealth, the escalating state pension crisis.
The mounting unfunded liability of nearly $50 billion threatens the state’s economy, its citizens and future generations.
The staggering pension problem should concern all Pennsylvanians, especially landowners and homeowners who could experience substantial property tax increases to fund the school pension system.
Our beef is not, nor has it ever been, with existing public employees. In many cases these employees are our spouses, siblings and children.
We do not want to take away any benefit they have paid into the system or have earned. In fact, employees are the only ones who have consistently contributed their share to the state systems.
But farmers, who require large amounts of land to run their businesses, are extremely vulnerable. Significant property tax increases could threaten the very existence of some farms, which typically operate on tight profit margins.
Passing the buck on the pension crisis is no longer an option. Lawmakers need to demonstrate leadership and take action now.
Aside from growing the pension debt, doing nothing has also hurt the state’s credit rating. So when the commonwealth borrows money, it pays a higher interest rate.
With more money being diverted to cover pension costs, other vital programs will be underfunded as part of the budget process. The reality is this: Higher taxes, fewer services and stagnant economic activity will be the norm in Pennsylvania for years to come, if lawmakers fail to address the pension problem now.
Last year, lawmakers from both parties worked together to pass a desperately needed transportation funding bill; it is now time for a bipartisan effort to tackle the pension crisis.
Carl T. Shaffer
president, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau