Gov. Tom Corbett's pension reform plan, unveiled in his budget address last week, raises a lot of “ifs” and “maybes.”
If it doesn't pass, he says, public education in the commonwealth is in for deep cuts for years to come and other core government functions will suffer as well, as a $44 billion combined shortfall in SERS and PSERS balloons to $65 billion by 2018.
If the pension crisis isn't fixed, the cost of doing business in Pennsylvania also will rise. The state's credit rating faces continued downgrades, and lowering tax rates will grow even more difficult as more and more money pours into public pensions.
And if, as the governor proposes, future benefits for current employees are curtailed, the whole plan may be tied up in court for who knows how long — maybe even until a new governor takes office and has to start at square one.
Yet maybe, Corbett suggests, this is the best we can do, given the other challenges the state confronts.
Some critics of Corbett's proposal suggest the administration should just let the changes instituted by Act 20 of 2010 play out. Those included raising the retirement age, gradually raising employer contributions to a cap of 4.5 percent next year and increasing the time to vest to 10 years from five.
But can we afford to wait and see? That's a big "maybe."
Corbett's plan didn't generate a lot of heat in the statehouse last week. While Democrats could be expected to oppose it, few Republicans openly expressed enthusiasm either.
The silence is disappointing, but it's easy to understand. The proposal does nothing to curb the growing shortfall. Indeed, the phrase "kicking the can down the road" has been bandied about so much in the past week our ears are ringing.
Meanwhile, the unions representing public employees repeatedly cite the state's failure to keep past promises to the pension fund in their vigorous opposition to Corbett's proposal, even though the principal damage occurred under previous administrations.
And that leads to another disappointment. We can't turn the clock back and undo the past's poor decisions. All we can do is look at the facts as they are today and move forward.
If Gov. Corbett's plan isn't perfect, maybe the people with the most to lose or gain — the pension beneficiaries — could offer some ideas. Complex problems seldom are solved by individuals, single ideas or parties.
We all want a stronger Pennsylvania, where everyone can share in opportunity and prosperity. Today, though, we must talk about shared sacrifice to get us there. Where is the constructive criticism to make that happen?