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February 13, 2013 | By | Posted in WatchBlog

WATCHBLOG: Corbett pension reform push goes multi-media, but misses some facts

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Corbett’s pension reform push is going multi-media, with the first of what promises to be a series of web videos posted to the governor’s official YouTube account this afternoon.

The nearly five-minute video is a creative way to breakdown the basics of the state’s pension systems and the problems it faces, along with the differences between the existing “defined benefit” pension plans and the 401(k)-style “defined contribution” plan that Corbett wants to use for all newly hired state employees and public school teachers as a way to save money in the long run.

As you might expect, the video is heavy on the governor’s main messaging point – that the state pensions are costing more every year and crowding out other parts of the state budget.

It’s a fair point – this year, Pennsylvania is expected to pay $677 million to the State Employees Retirement System, or SERS, and $856 million to the Public School Employees Retirement System, or PSERS.

Overall, it’s a $500 million increase from last year’s budget.

But the video comes up short on explaining how and why the state finds itself with $40 billion in unfunded pension debt.

The narrator puts most of the blame on the stock market, and accurately explains that the state has to fill in the gap when the stock market fails to return enough money to fund the systems. But he leaves out the fact that Pennsylvania deliberately reduced the state’s share of the pension contributions for an entire decade beginning in 2003, in order to put more dollars into other parts of the state budget.

Here’s the video:

In addition to a new 401(k)-style pension for new hires, Corbett wants to reduce the future benefits for current employees to achieve further long-term savings.

Public sector labor unions have vowed to take the state to court if changes to benefits are passed into law.

Corbett is also proposing a short term reduction in how much money the state pays into the system for the next few years, even though underfunding the plans is what helped cause the problem in the first place.

Why? You guessed it – so those dollars can be spent elsewhere in the budget.

Corbett’s team wins points for the use of the fat and skinny piggy bank animations and for the simplistic, straight-forward style.  At least it’s a lot better than “Squeezy the Pension Python,” which was Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s recent attempt at a similar piece of pension propaganda.

Contact Eric 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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