Pension challenge looms large as Pa. Senate re-elects its leader

    Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo, file)

    Pennsylvania’s Senate has convened for the first time this year, with remarks from its newly re-elected president pro tem urging action on a piece of the governor’s public pension overhaul proposal.

    Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, took to the podium shortly after being unanimously re-elected to his eighth year as Senate president pro tem.

    One issue on his mind was pension costs.

    The commonwealth’s scheduled payments into its vastly underfunded system are going skyward this year, putting pressure on the rest of the state budget.

    The issue is just as important now as transportation funding was a year ago, Scarnati said. But he is more inclined to change pension benefits for future employees than change benefits of current workers, as the governor has proposed.

    “I think that gets you into a legal darkness and gray area that isn’t easily accounted for when we’re working with numbers within the budget,” Scarnati said Tuesday. “How can we book a savings that may ultimately have a legal challenge?”

    Labor unions have said changing the pension plans of current employees wouldn’t survive a court battle.

    Movement on pension overhaul fizzled last summer, but Scarnati said he thinks there’s a desire in his chamber to do something — even if it’s a relatively small bite at the apple.

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