Lawmaker pension hike of 2001 far more costly than 2005 pay raise

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Pennsylvanians revolted after lawmakers gave themselves a middle-of-the-night pay raise in 2005. It prompted summer long protests with pink pigs. The pay raise law was ultimately repealed.

But critics say lawmakers truly fattened up with in 2001 when they passed a pension hike and that was far more costly to taxpayers.

Lawmakers increased their own pensions 50 percent.

They boosted the pensions of state workers and teachers by 25 percent.

“What people need to understand is the $40 billion time bomb that we're dealing with now, was set off in 2001 by almost the entire legislature,” said Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital during a Wednesday press conference.

That bomb is now exploding the bill is coming due. School districts across the state are forced to raise taxes, cut programs, or both to pay for rising pension costs.

Tim Potts is on the Carlisle School Board. “My plea is for people to realize it's not school boards who created this problem. It's legislators. If you want to get mad at somebody, get mad at the people who can fix the problem, not at the people who have to deal with it,” Potts said.

Though he is rarely criticized, and fondly remembered, Tom Ridge signed off on the pension spike.

“The one guy who gets off and shouldn't get off is Tom Ridge,” Epstein said. “This is the governor that engineered the pension grab of 2001, who benefited from the pension grab of 2001 and somehow remains teflon.”

The legislature is more like velcro.

They are being criticized for the pension hike, though many are enjoying six-figure retirements beyond the Capitol spotlight.

“It's a great gig,” said Epstein. “Only in Pennsylvania can you increase your pension by 50 percent, retire at 50, get lifetime healthcare, and accomplish nothing.”

The governor is still optimistic that this legislature will accomplish pension reform when it returns in the fall. Epstein will believe it when he sees it.

“When was the last time you ever heard of a bank robber robbing a bank, going back to the scene of the crime putting the money back in the vault, and then changing the combination? That's what we're asking our legislators to do. It's probably not going to happen.”

Act 120 of 2010 did reduce pension benefits for public employees, but it only applies to those hired after 2010.

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