Senate Bill 1 begins advance through House

Senate Bill 1 begins advance through House

Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, June 5, 2017/Categories: News and Views

Senate Bill 1—the major pension reform bill making its way through the General Assembly—easily cleared the Senate by a vote of 40-9 Monday afternoon. Within only a few short hours, the legislation was quickly taken up by the House State Government Committee where it advanced to full House along bipartisan lines.


That’s not to say things went smoothly in the House committee, however, where Democratic members—incensed over the haste by which the meeting was called—debated for well over 30 minutes the merits of a motion made by Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) to delay the meeting 24 hours to give members time to read the bill.


“I have serious concerns about the process, about the way this has come about,” said committee Minority Chairman Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery). “For a bill that was posted sometime after dinner time last evening, to be asking the House to be moving on it in less than 24 hours, does not exactly smack of good government or thoughtful due diligence.”


Rep. Bradford ultimately ended up joining Republicans in voting for the substance of the bill.


Others on the committee, however, noted the issue has been vetted over several sessions and the concepts contained in the legislation should be familiar to most members on the committee.


“This is the process, there have been discussions ongoing, there have been hearings—we’ve had hearings for years on this issue—we’ve had piece of legislation after piece of legislation introduced that has been debated, put on the governor’s desk, vetoed, more legislation debated, more legislation passed by this committee; we’ve been working on this for many years,” said Majority Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).


“This is a product of many years of labor by this committee and, ultimately if this gets to the governor’s desk, by this General Assembly.”


As the process continues to move along, many outside groups have added to the list of supporters of the pension reform plan contained in Senate Bill 1.


On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, the Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other business, research, and advocacy groups reached out to legislators to voice their support for the legislation.


However, not everyone is pleased.


In a brief sit-down interview with The PLS Reporter, Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) voiced his rationale for why he voted against Senate Bill 1 both in committee Sunday and on the Senate Floor Monday.


“This is a very watered down bill that we passed,” he said. “It doesn’t deal with the large problem, we still have the problem, we still have the deficit. We have to move, at some point, everyone into a 401(k) program.”


He noted the 401(k) plan, something which he uses for employees of the business he owns, will be more beneficial for state and public school employees who seek the portability of the plan.


Outside of the plan design, Sen. Wagner decried the lack of accountability in Senate Bill 1 for the pension fund managers at SERS and PSERS, pointing to a recent audit done by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that showed a 2016 return on investment of 1.9 percent on $49.2 billion in assets invested, all while the fund managers were paid $416 million in fees.


“They obviously did a pretty crappy job and, honestly, they should be fired; money managers are routinely fired by different entities,” he said. “This performance, I can tell you, three third graders could’ve done better than 1.29 percent.”


Senate Bill 1 is expected to be up for final consideration in the House as soon as Thursday and the governor has signaled his support for the bill.


According to Sen. Wagner, however, that does not mean it’s a good product.


“Tom Wolf would vote for anything or he would pass and put his name on anything that has a heartbeat on it because he’s up for reelection,” he said.


Sen. Wagner is also a declared candidate for governor in 2018.