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Public pension reform: Maybe next year

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There is always next year for pensions.

With all hands on deck over transportation funding and just a few legislative session days left this year, it would appear pension reform of any kind is going to be a 2014 issue.

That's the impression anyway, according to the Coalition for Sustainable Communities, a broad coalition of business and government leaders.

"It's a very heavy lift," Rick Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League, said Wednesday in a teleconference about Act 111 and municipal pensions.

Several plans have been proposed — some introduced — to address public-sector pensions at both the municipal and statewide level. But little action has been taken.

Schuettler said he expects there will be additional hearings on pension reform, including House Bill 1581, a cash-balance plan offered up by York County Republican Rep. Seth Grove over the summer.

That bill would address public safety hires at the municipal level.

The coalition is supporting Grove's bill. And conversations have taken place with Cumberland County Republican Rep. Glen Grell, Schuettler said. Grell has a municipal police bill, known as HB 1651, and a proposal to tackle the two statewide retirement systems.

The fear is that lawmakers might not have the appetite to tackle municipal reforms once they address the larger state plans, Schuettler said.

"We'd like to see it included. It makes sense," he said, adding that he's hoping for a packaged effort.

He expressed optimism that pension relief could be addressed by the end of the legislative session, which wraps at the end of 2014.

Next year also is a gubernatorial election. That could make it a hard row to hoe.

Changes to Act 111, the law that governs binding arbitration for police and firefighters, is of equal importance to the coalition.

"It's one of the biggest cost drivers in every full-service municipality in the commonwealth," Schuettler said, backing Senate Bill 1111.

The proposal is comparable to SB 1570, which was introduced last session. Joint hearings were held on the topic.

SB 1111 would, among other things, require costs of arbitration to be split evenly by the parties and open arbitration proceedings to the public.

A companion bill in the House expects to be introduced as HB 1845, Schuettler said.

Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jasons@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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