Americans for Prosperity Targets PA Next
Jennifer Stefano is in a whirlwind, fresh from Wisconsin. She had rallied crowds on behalf Gov. Scott Walker, who was set to be recalled for cutting the bargaining rights of Wisconsin’s employee unions.
Walker won big. The unions are stunned.
Stefano, a Bucks County housewife turned tea partier turned state director for Americans for Prosperity, today sets her attention on Pennsylvania. The stakes are much higher.
“We’re gonna’ community organize here in Pennsylvania, and we’re taking on the union bosses. If the politicians of this state don’t want to lead on the pension reform issue, then I guess it will be up to housewives like me.”
Stefano’s fighting words carried clearly over a crackly phone connection as she walked to the Fox News studios in Manhattan, where she was headed to tape a one-hour special about Wisconsin with Sean Hannity. (It aired Friday night.)
“It takes a very long time for politicians to understand there’s a new game. We’re going to change the political game in Pennsylvania, like Gov. Walker changed it in Wisconsin. I don’t care about holding Republican majorities in Harrisburg. I’m not interested in that kind of politics. I’m only interested in getting done what’s right for our commonwealth.
“That worries a lot of politicians,” she continued. “In a lot of ways, we’re in worse crisis than Wisconsin.”
In Harrisburg, the crisis is known as the pension bomb. Most Pennsylvanians are unclear how grave the situation is. If you don’t want to spoil your day, then stop reading. If you continue, you risk angrily crumpling the newspaper and tossing it across the room.
The Pennsylvania pension bomb explodes next month, and then every year thereafter, until at least 2033. Here’s who set it, and why.
Teachers, some other school employees and state employees unions have arranged generous pension deals with the state. In the boom years of the 1990s, their investment funds overflowed. Gov. Tom Ridge signed Act 9, increasing state employee and teacher pensions by 25 percent.
Then, he and the Legislature raised pensions for themselves and other elected pols by 50 percent. All on our dime. Whee!
The dot-com bust came, then the Great Recession. Pension investment funds dwindled. The state woefully underfunded the system. Now, the bill is due. The tab? About $40 billion over the next 20 years.
If you like high property taxes, then you’ll love what’s coming your way.
The Delaware County Daily Times analyzed the issue and found that school districts must increase pension funding by 8 percent this year, 29 percent next year, peaking at 34 percent in 2015, and then remaining at 20 percent through 2033.
Legislation is proposed to reform the state pension system, but it applies only to future hires. We’re still on the hook for the $40 billion.
Stefano said it won’t be easy ridding the state of public sector pensions, replacing them with 401(k)-style savings plans. The unions, which give generously to Pennsylvania’s elected leaders, will fight.
Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are about more than just taxes, though.
“Wisconsin is about who and what we are as Americans. Are we gonna be the country of gimme-gimme-gimme, slopping at the government trough? Or are we a country where we work for ourselves and not for our government masters?
“In Pennsylvania, the public sector union bosses in many instances have become the epitome of the pigs at the government trough. They feed off the hard-earned paychecks of every private sector taxpayer in Pennsylvania,” she said.
In Wisconsin, reforms to public sector contract bargaining, health and pension benefits resulted in state and school district budget surpluses. It will happen here if enough people stand up for reform, Stefano said.
But she is worried. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, seems skittish about taking on the unions.
“He makes budget cuts, but doesn’t address the structural issues underlying them. That’s not leadership. This is not a time for weakness,” she said.
She will travel across the state for AFP, training ordinary citizens to lobby and to hold their state legislators accountable.
“There is no political freedom without economic freedom. The state budget directly impacts our ability to live free. America is based on freedom, not on getting free things.”