By Kelly Lewis
I have read about 5 percent of the noise surrounding the upcoming governor’s race in Pennsylvania. As a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I’m always amazed at what issues become amplified, minimized, and often buried. Less than 1 percent of the voters will read this little note, but as a son of teachers, and a friend to many current and retired teachers, administrators and state workers, I believe some facts deserve being said.
There is no doubt; incoming governors and other elected officials inherit the good, bad and ugly of the preceding budgets and sessions. There is no doubt Ed Rendell inherited some challenges after the budget surplus years of Gov. Tom Ridge and the first challenging budget faced by Gov. Mark Schweiker. But, what Gov. Rendell’s budgets left behind were nothing short of scorched earth. Devastating!
During my four years in the Pennsylvania House, we over-funded the annual required contributions for the state pensions, SERS; and 100 percent funded the teacher pensions, PSERS. When Gov. Rendell’s budgets underfunded the teacher pension fund, PSERS, by a massive $6.2 billion, things began to change quickly. His budgets underfunded the state pension fund, SERS, by $2.7 billion. All told,
Gov. Rendell’s budgets underfunded these two pension funds by a staggering $8.9 billion.
The last two Rendell budgets reduced state-funding for Pennsylvania schools by $460 million and $560 million. The state budget math is simple. Gov. Rendell’s budgets underfunded teacher pensions by $6.2 billion and cut state aid for Pennsylvania schools by $1.1 billion, a total underfunding of $7.3 billion.
Another deficit left behind was a $3.5 billion underfunded infrastructure and transportation network, one of the most important functions provided by state and local government. I personally applaud Gov. Corbett and every legislator, Republican and Democrat, that voted to fix our roads and bridges. Under Gov. Corbett, long-sought public, private partnership (P3) legislation was passed so our private sector can propose innovative ways to fund infrastructure projects. Funding the obligations to maintain and improve our infrastructure, just like funding teacher and state employee pension obligations, takes courage, guts and tough votes. Now, tens of thousands more Pennsylvanians are going to be working on our infrastructure projects.
Instead of funding pensions, education and roads, Gov. Rendell’s budgets wasted billions on now-failing alternative energy schemes. Make no mistake, Democrats Rendell and Fresh Start leader Katie McGinty, then the DEP Secretary, personally led the diversion of billions from pensions, education and roads into questionable alternative energy schemes, which instead of creating promised jobs, have gone bankrupt or killed thousands of eagles, hawks, and birds. Only in 2014 America could the loudest Fresh Start voices bashing Gov. Corbett be the very same people that created the problems in the first place.
As for Secretary Tom Wolf, I have enjoyed every conversation I’ve ever had with him, and know him to be a good family man. But, our Pennsylvania cannot survive a Rendell restoration that brings back Fresh Start leaders that severely underfunded pensions, education, and transportation in order to divert hard-earned cash into dubious and nefarious schemes.
After the Rendell blame-game and kicking the can down the road, Tom Corbett faced these challenges head-on, reversed under-funding, and has positioned Pennsylvania to pass Illinois and become the 5th largest state economy in the US, and 18th largest economy in the world. Instead of a return to underfunding, blaming others, and very-misguided spending priorities, Pennsylvania should stay the course by re-electing Tom Corbett this November.
Kelly Lewis is the president of Lewis Strategic. He’s a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and founder of the Safe80 Task Force. A member of the House Select Committee on Public Pensions following the World Com, Enron debacles, in 2003, he received the Outstanding Legislator Award by the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees. He was recognized by leaders in the Clinton and Bush administrations and the national media for his work against pay-to-play politics in public pensions. The ideas and opinions expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Business Journal.