by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 9, 2023
Democrats in the state House and Senate are trying anew to deliver a cost-of-living adjustment to Pennsylvania’s retired teachers and state employees, who have not seen an increase in more than 20 years.
On Wednesday, Rep. Steven R. Malagari, D-Montgomery, began seeking co-sponsors for a proposal that would boost pension benefits for teachers and state employees alike during the fiscal year that ends June 30, and tie future hikes to inflationary increases.
It’s the House companion to a similar effort, introduced late last year, by Sens. John Kane, D-Chester, and Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, who also are looking for backers for bills that boost retirement benefits for public school employees and state employees.
The Democratic lawmakers mounted a similar effort during the waning days of last year’s legislative session.
Muth told the Capital-Star on Wednesday that she and Kane currently are meeting with those impacted by the proposals, and are working to come up with language that addresses any outstanding concerns.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee, which Muth chairs, has scheduled a joint hearing with its House equivalent for the end of March on the issue, Muth told the Capital-Star.
Getting the bills to a vote — let alone onto Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk — is no easy lift, thanks to the sheer cost of such an increase.
An analysis last year by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office indicated that enacting a COLA hike for tens of thousands of retired teachers and state employees would cost hundreds of millions of dollars spread out over a decade, the Capital-Star reported at the time.
The State Employees Retirement System provides retirement payments to some 134,360 former Pennsylvania state workers, the Muth and Kane wrote.
The average monthly annuity payment is $2,018.88, which means the average retiree receives $24,226.56 per-year in pension payments, they added.
In their memo seeking legislative support, Kane and Muth made both a moral and economic argument for the increase for state workers, noting that state government is a “multi-faceted employer that offers job opportunities, fair wages, benefits, and pensions to many workers who provide critical services including, but not limited to maintaining our beautiful state [C]apitol, our wonderful state parks and forests, and our highways and bridges that are patrolled by the brave men and women of the Pennsylvania State Police.”
In a nod to the high prices on the shelves, they added that “the cost of most goods and services have risen in the past twenty years. Our legislation will provide a COLA to help our state retirees particularly long-time state retirees restore their purchasing power, which will help our economy.”
Writing in support of his pension plan, Malagari made a similar argument, observing that the current “stagnant payments are insufficient for our retirees.
“In our state, retired public school employees and state employees earned their pensions through years of dedicated service,” Malagari wrote “It is past time that our state’s public pension systems provide them the retirement security they deserve.”
And with that price creep, “it is vital that we ensure educators who gave so much to their communities can afford to live with dignity in retirement. In effect, the value of these retirees’ payments is decreasing each year the legislature does not act,” Muth and Kane wrote.
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