Wolf’s new Pa. pension offer lands with a thud

     Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, left, accompanied by Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference last week  in  Norristown. Pennsylvania is more than a month and a half into its new fiscal year without a state budget. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, left, accompanied by Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference last week in Norristown. Pennsylvania is more than a month and a half into its new fiscal year without a state budget. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    A tentative proposal from Gov. Tom Wolf to change state pensions isn’t sparking much agreement in Pennsylvania.

    The governor has floated a “scenario” under which he would scale back retirement benefits for state and school workers, but top Republicans say the changes don’t go far enough.

    “It’s just not even in the ballpark of what we would think we could acceptably sell to Republican members in the Senate,” said Drew Crompton, chief counsel to GOP Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati.

    Under the Wolf offer, traditional pensions would be preserved for most employees, with the highest earners receiving a 401(k)-style retirement benefit. The state would borrow money with a pension obligation bond. (The administration says the maneuver could be structured to minimize risk.)

    The proposal would also limit the extent to which workers can boost their pension payout in the last few years of their employment. The offer could cut as much as $17 billion from the state’s roughly $50 billion pension debt, according to the Wolf administration – that’s much more than any savings booked by Republican-backed proposals.

    “If that’s not a substantial, significant overture to jump-start the conversations,” said Budget Secretary Randy Albright, “I guess we would be scratching our heads about what else it would take.”

    The gesture comes with strings attached. The offer stands only if Republicans support Wolf’s proposed $400 million boost in education funding. But Republicans look ready to turn it down. Crompton said leaders would not make such a promise in return for what they consider to be paltry pension changes. Moreover, he said, they fear the governor’s schools funding vision would require tax hikes they don’t support.

    Pension policy is one of several issues at the center of the disagreement over a state spending plan. The budget is more than a month and a half late.

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