2009-09-10 / Local & State

Police, Firefighters Reject Pension Overhaul Bill

By PETER JACKSON ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Advocates for police and firefighters on Wednesday urged Pennsylvania lawmakers to reject a proposed overhaul of the state's municipal pension laws.

Les Neri, president of the Pennsylvania State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said such sweeping changes deserve more public scrutiny and should not have been attached as an amendment to a bill to allow Philadelphia to increase its sales tax and defer a portion of its pension contributions.

Neri said a state takeover of a pension fund - the most drastic action contemplated in the amendment, reserved for funds with assets less than half of their liabilities - would unfairly bar collective bargaining on pensions between municipalities and employees.

Meanwhile, a pension expert affiliated with the conservative Commonwealth Foundation said the proposed reforms reflect "a missed opportunity" to tackle the real causes of pension underfunding: overly generous benefits and inadequate contribution levels.

Many of the changes in the amendment would provide relief by stretching out pension costs over a longer period, pushing more of that responsibility onto the next generation, said Rick Dreyfuss, a former corporate benefits director who now works as a business consultant and actuary.

The Senate approved the amended bill last week on a 38-9 vote that included bipartisan support.

If the House concurs, the bill would go to Gov. Ed Rendell, who has said he would sign it because the Philadelphia provisions are crucial to averting layoffs of thousands of city workers and deep cutbacks in government services. It remained unclear Wednesday how soon the House might reconvene.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said Tuesday that the city would send notices advising residents and vendors next week that the cutbacks would be implemented Oct. 2 if the legislation has not been approved.

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