(WHTM) — Eggs were $1.70 and a gallon of gasoline was $1.36 the last time retired public school teachers and state employees got a pension bump in 2002.
Now, there are rumblings at the state Capitol about giving retirees a bump.
“Twenty years ago Donovan McNabb was the Eagles quarterback, and I had a whole lot more hair. But all jokes aside, we’re all here today to see real change for our retirees,” said Senator John Kane (D-Chester/Delaware Counties).
Pension checks for retired teachers and state employees have not increased, but the price of everything else has.
“I believe we are failing for hard-working teachers and so many more dedicated their lives to noble professions,” Kane added.
Tom Curry, a retired art teacher, says income stagnation coupled with dramatic inflation paints an ugly picture.
“Retirees who dedicate most of their lives to public service, realizing it wasn’t a high paying professional salary, deserve to live a dignified retirement,” Curry said.
The problem is especially acute for those who retired before 2001 when the pension formulas were tweaked.
“In fact, their average pension benefit is less than $20,000 a year and their average age is 84,” said Aaron Chapin, vice president of the Public School Employees Retirement System.
The ask is for lawmakers to hike pensions and perhaps build automatic increases into the formula, but not everyone is saying yes.
“I have parents who retired from the private sector. They can’t go back and get a cost of living adjustment. They can’t,” said Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York County).
Keefer calls it a sensitive issue for her because her dad’s pension was embezzled by a private employer, forcing him to start over in his 30s.
“Taxpayers are not on the hook for that. It’s unfortunate, it’s terrible, but taxpayers aren’t on the hook for it,” Keefer said.
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But supporters of the adjustment point fingers back at the legislature, which they argue, has helped create the problem.
“Constant underfunding of our pension systems over many years. And investment returns coming in lower than projected, could be lower than projected due to using high price investment management, risky private equity investments have all contributed into this,” said Arthur Steinberg, president of the PA American Federation of the Teachers.
The legislative committee was sympathetic towards retirees, but the committee was full of House and Senate Democrats. It’s unclear if Republicans are as supportive.