Small victory for pension review commission

Following an abrupt loss of funding, an independent government agency focused on evaluating pension plans is now able to continue operations temporarily.

In December, Gov. Tom Wolf cut the $962,000 budget for the Public Employee Retirement Commission (PERC), which monitors retirement plans and retirement needs for Pennsylvania residents. The loss of funding is a result of the continuous disagreements between the democratic governor and the Republican-led general assembly.

After PERC officially shut down in February, Representatives Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, and Seth Grove, R-York, took the issue to Commonwealth Court. The representatives filed suit on behalf of the taxpayers, claiming that Wolf did not have the authority to close PERC.

On March 2 the two parties signed an agreement allowing PERC to continue operating temporarily while the court deliberated.

The court will hear the case in Philadelphia in May, according to The PLS Reporter.

In the meantime, three of four PERC employees are returning to business as usual. The fourth, the executive director, left state employment, according to the York Dispatch.

PublicSource reported in February that Wolf thought PERC, which looks at the risk, rate of return on pension investments and project costs in the future as well as assets and liabilities in municipal pension plans, was “redundant.”

Wolf handed some of PERC’s responsibilities to the Office of the Budget “in order to comply with state law,” according to the York Dispatch.

However, state representatives Bloom and Grove argue that the independent agency is necessary to protect the residents of Pennsylvania.

“PERC, Pennsylvania’s independent pension watchdog, is back, and that’s very good news for taxpayers,” the two representatives said in a joint statement. “It’s important for the people of Pennsylvania to have the guarantee of an independent, impartial review of any changes to our public pension systems, and today’s agreed-upon restoration of PERC sets the stage for urgently needed pension reform legislation to move forward.”

While PERC waits to continue the fight for pension reform, the two representatives are happy to have managed this small victory.

“We felt compelled to take legal action to protect the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of powers,” Bloom and Grove said in a statement. “Gov. Wolf does not have the authority to dissolve the operations of a statutorily created watchdog agency and then begin to subjectively dictating its responsibilities.”

Reach PublicSource intern Lauren Rosenblatt at lrosenblatt@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @LRosenblatt_.