Capitol recap: Bill would put PERC powers in the Independent Fiscal Office

    Gov. Tom Wolf speaks after he took the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania

    Gov. Tom Wolf speaks after he took the oath of office to become the 47th governor of Pennsylvania

    Legislation dealing with pensions has, for decades, received a once-over by actuaries working for the Public Employee Retirement Commission, or PERC.

    The point is to have PERC actuaries’ objective analysis. That’s  apart from information provided by bill sponsors and actuaries working for potentially-affected retirement systems.

    That additional independent analysis has been absent since Gov. Wolf called it “redundant” and vetoed PERC’s funding last year.But the task would be taken up by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office, or IFO, under a measure introduced last week by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin.

    Benninghoff’s House Bill 1929 also has the IFO doing PERC’s other job: reviewing and cataloguing reports from Pennsylvania’s 3,000-plus municipal pensions and sending them state aid.

    The bill says PERC staffers currently handling municipal pension tasks would move to the IFO from the Office of the Budget. They’ve been there since mid-February.

    Wolf signed off on that arrangement, which preserved monitoring and giving state aid to local retirement systems.

    But since Wolf’s veto, nothing’s changed about state laws creating the commission and requiring a PERC review — or 20-day wait — before pension bills can get to second consideration by legislators.

    HB1929 would repeal the PERC law and replace it with one designating the IFO as the entity responsible for municipal pension aid and reports, and vetting bills for retirement systems.

    Benninghoff says those functions are within the eight-person agency’s wheelhouse, as its name suggests.

    IFO Director Matthew Knittel says he hasn’t reviewed the bill yet, but plans to Monday night and then discuss whether it’s feasible with Deputy Director Mark Ryan.

    “We were aware that our office was being considered as possibility to house PERC, though we were not involved in any technical details or drafting the legislation,” Knittel said Monday.

    Knittel says all of the office’s research and analysis during the past four years has been handled by existing in-house staff of lawyers and economists. But the IFO doesn’t have any actuaries on staff, so it would, like PERC, need to hire them to do pension bill analysis.

    The legislation is with the House State Government Committee, which meets Tuesday morning. Philadelphia’s Rep. W. Curtis Thomas is the lone Democrat cosponsor.

    PERC’s defunding also is the subject of a lawsuit filed against Wolf by Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, and Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland. The case is scheduled to go to court May 11, Bloom’s spokeswoman Abby Haslam confirmed.

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