DN editorial: Council has a pension-reform plan - if only we could see it

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (seen here in June 2016). A hearing on a pension reform bill was canceled and hasn't been rescheduled.

NOW YOU SEE IT, now you don't.

A few weeks ago, City Council's Finance Committee was due to hold a public hearing on a bill central to the Kenney administration's plan for pension reform. The bill would impose money-saving rules on city employees to chip away at the pension fund's $4 billion-plus deficit.

The hearing was postponed. None has been rescheduled, and Bill No. 161109 has receded into the thick fog that often envelopes Council.

On its face, the bill is not controversial. For years, the sad state of the municipal pension system has been like the weather: Everyone in City Hall talks about it, but no one does anything about it.

To his credit, Mayor Kenney is seeking to change that. Last year, he got District Council 33, the union that represents the city's blue-collar workers, to agree make changes in its members' pensions.

Current employees, who now contribute 3.9 percent of their pay to the pension fund, would be asked to contribute more, on the sliding scale depending on their salaries. New employees would enter what is called a stacked-hybrid plan: a conventional pension on the first $50,000 of their salary, with a city contribution to a 401(k) plan on the rest.

In exchange, the Kenney administration agreed to wage increases and also made a one-time payment to DC33's health and welfare fund. For DC33, it was a good trade. Most of the 10,000 members make less than $50,000 a year, so a lot of the reforms would not apply to them.

It's a different matter for other city employees, members of DC47, the white-collar union, and the police and the firefighters unions, many of whom make significantly more than $50,000 a year.

It would also make a difference for the 5,000 city employees who are not union members - a list that includes civil service and exempt employees at the top of government, many with salaries over $100,000 year.

Contracts for the unions involved expire June 30. The administration will have to negotiate (with DC47) or win the concessions through arbitration (with the police and fire unions) to get the pension changes it seeks.

It's a different matter when it comes to nonunion employees. Bill No. 161109 would have extended the pension reforms to the 5,000 nonunion employees and to elected officials. Passage would mean not only significant savings, but also could be used as leverage to get the unions to agree to changes.

The bill followed the administration plan - except it excluded future elected officials from the hybrid plan. It involves only a handful of people - about 25 in total, including any future mayor and Council members, so it would have a piddling cost.

But, the administration wanted that provision out of the bill, arguing that it would be harder to get the unions to agree to the new plan if they could argue it was not uniform on all employees.

We asked Council President Darrell Clarke's office Tuesday when a hearing will be held on Bill No. 161109. Spokeswoman Jane Roh said the original hearing was postponed because Clarke was in Harrisburg that day. She said a new hearing would be scheduled "following full briefings from the Administration on the new plans."

We hope that is soon. We'd hate to see this bill get lost in the fog.

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