The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 7, 2013

My Turn: Its time for the state to pay its bills

Daily Item

---- — As one of thousands of Central Susquehanna Valley citizens who are current or retired commonwealth employees and who now or in the future will rely on our earned and promised state retirements, I read with interest John Finnerty's column, "Budgets $44B barrier" in the Jan. 28 edition.

As a 28-year commonwealth employee, I have contributed more than six percent of my gross pay each and every payday toward funding my retirement. In addition, when I signed on with the state back in 1984, I essentially signed a contract that I would work for lower wages than I could garner in the private sector, with a four-year degree, with the promise the commonwealth would then provide me certain benefits, including a guaranteed retirement based upon my contributions and my years of state service.

Over the years I have been able to earn advancement and also earn pay raises, and have been able to garner a living wage so I could provide for my wife and children.

However, in recent years, our legislators in Harrisburg have taken steps that now threaten the retirement income of myself and the other thousands of current and retired commonwealth employees. The legislature has failed to fund their end of the bargain. They have instead essentially balanced our state budgets on the backs of state employees instead of placing into the system the monies needed to keep the retirement system at a healthy ratio.

Now that there is an estimated $44 billion of bills due, instead of paying those bills, some legislators wish to change the rules of the system and not keep the promises made to commonwealth employees. It is interesting that there has been no information about the legislators cutting their own retirements. Indeed, I have not had a pay raise for the past five years, whereas, by law, our legislators have benefited from a guaranteed pay raise each year.

Each year, according to a recent PA House of Representatives appropriations budget briefing, $65-plus million is funneled back into our local economy by disbursements to retired Pennsylvania state employees.

This is money that, to a large part, state employees have earned and then sent directly back to the state for safekeeping. Is it the state employees' fault the state legislators have not done a responsible job in making sure the fund is secure? Are we to suffer because shortsighted legislators in past years have failed in doing one of their only jobs in making sure the state pays its bills, instead of just postponing the payment of its bills to the next state budget? (Sounds very much like Washington, does it not ?)

State employees are your neighbors, family members and customers. We tend to retire where we have lived and worked and will continue to support the economy of the Central Susquehanna Valley with our retirement monies. However, unless, our current legislators take steps to correct what has largely been the mistakes or even failure of their predecessors, not only the lives of our retirees, but our local economy will suffer.

As Mr. Finnerty's article states, there are current funding streams to create a solution to this issue and for the state to pay its bills. Now it remains in the governor's hands to see if he will pay the bill, or simply pass on the problem.

Eric D. Ulsh,

Port Trevorton