State police, guards say no to overhaul of pension

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s state troopers and corrections officers have a message for legislators considering a pension overhaul for state and public school workers: Don’t include us.

Joseph Kovel, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, told a House panel Tuesday that mandatory retirement at 60 and exclusion from Social Security benefits mean the state police should not be included in a proposal to close the traditional pension plans to future state and school hires, who instead would enroll in a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan and accompanying cash-balance plan.

Mr. Kovel said there is concern among current troopers — 1,000 of whom he said are eligible to retire — about changes proposed for current workers.

“We don’t want to have a mass exodus of our men and women out of our department,” he said. “It’s not a threat. It’s just reality. Our department is older now, and as they become retirement-eligible, they’re concerned about their pension. And if they feel that there’s going to be a significant change made to those pensions, those members are looking to leave.”

A bill that passed the Senate last month would require most current state and school workers — those hired before a 2010 pensions law took effect — to choose between paying a higher contribution, or having their retirement benefit begin to accrue at a lower rate. New hires would be enrolled in defined-contribution plans.

Jason Bloom, western region vice president for the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, told the House State Government Committee that the proposed changes could prompt corrections officers to continue working longer than they should.

“If you couldn’t retire with the number that you would like to retire at, you would try to hold on and stay another year, if possible,” Mr. Bloom said. “This isn’t the type of job that you can do that.”

Both the troopers and corrections officers associations said in written testimony that they were concerned about how the Senate bill treats disability benefits.

Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said that an IRS rule requires money in a defined-contribution plan to be used only for retirement, whereas money in a defined-benefit plan can be pooled and used for disability benefits.

“It’s something we’re working on,” she said. “We shared that with the state police.”

After the hearing, committee chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, said he believes the circumstances of the state police could be addressed within a defined-contribution retirement plan. The Senate bill sets employer contributions at 12.2 percent of compensation for state police, compared to 4 percent for most state workers.

The committee will hold a second hearing Thursday.

Karen Langley: or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley