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January 31, 2013 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: New Auditor General whacks General Assembly for starting pension fire

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Newly minted Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says his former colleagues in the General Assembly started the fire that led to the pension conflagration currently threatening to engulf Pennsylvania’s state budget.

During a sit down interview with the Bucks County Currier Times, DePasquale – a state representative from York County from 2006 until the end of last year when he was elected to his new post – said the 2001 decision by lawmakers to raise their own pensions touched off what is now a $41 billion (and growing) problem.

From the Courier Times:

“It is the dumbest thing the Legislature has ever done,” DePasquale said. “Had I been auditor general at that time, I’d have been yelling and screaming.”

“They increased the multiplier, increased the benefits and then told school districts you don’t have to fund it,” he said with an exasperated expression.

The state is facing $500 million in increased pension costs in the upcoming 2013-14 budget and another $500 million in the 2014-15 budget.

More broadly, the current pension mess is the result of three laws and two economic collapses.

In 2001, state lawmakers sought to increase their own pensions – by a whopping 50 percent – and increased the pensions of all other state workers by 25 percent in order to get the bill passed.

A year later, those increased benefits were applied retroactivity to retirees – without increasing contributions to the system to pay for those enhanced benefits.

And in 2003, the General Assembly approved and Gov. Ed Rendell signed a law to defer payments into the state pension funds for 10 years in order to put more money into other parts of the budget.

Then there was the hits taken by the pension funds in the 2001 and 2008 economic collapses, the latter of which cost the two funds nearly 30 percent of their combined value.

And now who do the people of Pennsylvania have to rely on to fix this disaster?

Yep. The same guys who started the fire.

Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.

 

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Eric Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com or at (717) 350-0963.

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