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Blame Corbett’s cuts for school district, taxpayer woes

07/23/2014 05:28PM, Published by Lev, Categories: Opinion, In Print

By State Rep. Frank Dermody

Gov. Corbett continues to shift the blame for his own direct role in increasing school property taxes in Pennsylvania.

The governor claims pension costs are draining school district budgets and forcing higher property taxes. He says his pension reform proposal would reduce costs for school districts and reduce property taxes for homeowners. He is wrong.

There would be no pension "crisis" today if Gov. Corbett’s had not cut K-12 education funding by $1 billion in 2011. Those sustained cuts, over his tenure, have grown into a $3 billion loss for Pennsylvania schools.

The governor’s decision to drain schools of $3 billion while he provided more than $2 billion in tax breaks to some of the world’s wealthiest corporations is driving pension problems for school districts and property tax hikes for homeowners.

In 2010, the General Assembly passed bipartisan pension reform (Act 120) that reduced pension benefits and provided schools with relief from spikes in pension payments. The legislation was passed with the participation and cooperation of school districts. They were prepared for the pension payments they were going to pay over the next 40 years.

The next year Gov. Corbett pulled the rug out from under them by slashing their funding. This is why school districts cannot afford their pension payments. This is why almost every Pennsylvania school district was forced to increase property taxes during Gov. Corbett’s term.

The pension plan the governor supports – which included no input from school districts or most of the General Assembly -- failed to gain traction in the legislature for good reason: it does not produce near-term budget savings for the state or school districts, and it will not reduce property taxes. In fact, no pension benefit revisions can produce up-front savings for the state or Pennsylvania school districts.

The only way the governor can save money for the state budget and school districts now is by artificially reducing the legally required pension payments, thereby borrowing money from the pension systems to help balance his election-year budget. That will create billions of dollars in additional debt for the state and school districts. That’s exactly how we got here in the first place.

The governor’s pension gambit does accomplish one of his goals: it creates a scapegoat – Pennsylvania’s young teachers, school nurses, guidance counselors, law enforcement officers, secretaries, janitors and other school and state workers. These people live in every neighborhood of the state.

They are dedicated public servants who keep up their end of the bargain and set aside part of every paycheck for their retirement. Now the governor wants to sacrifice their retirement security so he can escape responsibility for his budget catastrophe.

There is only one real way forward: allow Act 120 to work, and begin to restore the billions of dollars to public schools that Gov. Corbett cut.

In the end, Pennsylvania’s pension problem is a budget problem, a problem created by Gov. Tom Corbett.

(Frank Dermody is Pennsylvania House Democratic Leader and represents the 33rd Legislative District.)

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