Pennsylvania State Education Association President Jim Testerman's commentary, "The Pennsylvania Pension Mess" (May 19 Perspectives), identified 21 percent of the reason your school property and state taxes will be skyrocketing in a few years -- underfunding of public employees' pensions by state politicians. But Mr. Testerman and his union conveniently ignore the other 79 percent of the reason the average Allegheny County homeowner will see its school property tax payments increase anywhere from $186 to $571 in two years just for pension payments.
The Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System, which manages Mr. Testerman's and thousands of other pensioners' retirement benefits, has calculated the share of "blame" for the coming tax increases to help us understand why we will be paying so much more.
The primary driver of the coming "pension tsunami" is poor stock market performance, which accounts for 43 percent of the pension crisis. But Mr. Testerman intentionally ignores his union's complicity in the man-made portion of the pension mess when it lobbied for a 25 percent increase in benefits in 2001 and a cost-of-living increase for retirees in 2002. Indeed, these benefit improvements account for over one-third of the problem -- substantially more than the underfunding by school districts and Harrisburg politicians.
Mr. Testerman also omits that in 2003 the PSEA supported the deferral of pension payments, and that for years it denied a pension funding crisis existed. Even today, the PSEA is silent on Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed deferral of payments, knowing full well that his pension funding "solution" will only exacerbate the problem.
So while private-sector workers experienced precipitous declines in their retirement plans, Mr. Testerman expects these same taxpayers to pay significantly more in state and school property taxes so public school employees reap the benefits of his union's lobbying.
MATTHEW J. BROUILLETTE
President and CEO Commonwealth Foundation
The writer is a former teacher and school board member.