With a court ruling months away, things can go back to normal at the small state agency for now — sort of.
The state agency responsible for municipal retirement aid, monitoring local pensions and analyzing related bills got some autonomy back Thursday through an agreement between Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican legislators suing him.
Commonwealth Court Judge P. Kevin Brobson approved the deal Thursday, two days after state officials came up with it.
State Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, and Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, filed a lawsuit against Wolf a few weeks ago. They’re challenging his dismantling of the Public Employee Retirement Commission, which had its funding for this year vetoed by the governor in December and was rolled into the Office of the Budget at a $300,000-plus savings in his budget proposal for next year.
A judge won’t rule on the parties’ legal arguments until May, Bloom says.
Wolf’s spokesman says the governor “looks forward to working with the General Assembly to finalize any long term solutions that would require statutory authorization.”
In the meantime, things can go back to normal for the small state agency — sort of.
One of PERC’s functions is to analyze pension legislation. The agreement approved by the court specifies PERC can keep doing that — but there’s no funding for it. It was cut by Wolf’s veto and remains zeroed out in next year’s proposed budget. Bloom has introduced a bill to restore funding for actuarial analysis and says he hopes this agreement gets it moving.
Thursday’s deal does, however, roll back some provisions established recently by the Wolf administration. Wolf’s position, originally, was PERC’s functions are redundant. It turned out, though, that there wasn’t another state entity immediately able to assume responsibility for collecting municipal pensions data (home to a quarter of the nation’s pension systems, Pennsylvania still uses a paper-based system to track them) and sending out state aid checks. Late checks could’ve caused municipalities to incur fines — steep ones, in some cases. To avoid that, three PERC staffers were transferred to the Office of the Budget, which would have oversight of agency hiring and communication with reporters. Biweekly meetings were required as well. The agreement approved Thursday does away with those meetings and lets PERC’s board handle hiring and dealing with the media.
The agency’s full complement is seven, but vacant positions will not be filled. Three staffers remain. The others, aside from former Executive Director James McAneny, left over the course of 2015. Wolf’s line-tem veto happened after McAneny refused to endorse analyses of pension bills provided by actuaries of the statewide retirement systems targeted by the legislation.