Heavily divided state employee pension system board thwarts efforts to cut Governor Wolf’s vaccination premium for some staff

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By a 6-5 vote on Wednesday, administrators of the state employee pension system rejected a proposal to cancel Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 vaccination incentive bonuses for executives and professional staff of the primary public pension system for employees in the state of Pennsylvania.

The proposal, proposed by State Representative Paul Schemel of R-Franklin County, would have blocked Wolf’s offer of five days off or an equivalent cash bonus to fully vaccinated state employees for most of the non-unionized employees of SERS, including senior management, investment professionals and staff lawyers.

State Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a vocal critic of Wolf’s bonus plan who backed Schemel’s proposal, said the motion could have saved the system up to $ 250,000.

Wolf announced the plan this fall as a way to get more state employees to get fully immunized against the coronavirus.

Garrity led a similar effort last month to reduce the incentive for vaccination in the public school employee retirement system, with the even larger retirement system covering retired teachers and other school employees. This motion was passed and Garrity estimated it would save PSERS approximately $ 330,000.

Schemel, Garrity and others said they are bringing Wednesday’s motion for the benefit of taxpayers – and SERS beneficiaries – by trying to stop the bleeding on what they see as a wasteful expense and not budgeted.

“No state employee was injured during the COVID crisis,” said Senator John DiSanto, of R-Dauphin County. “Everyone got their salary. Everyone has their own health insurance. And many Pennsylvanians were not able to receive this same kind of security. “

The immunization leave program – as an added benefit unilaterally created by the governor – is proving particularly odious, DiSanto said, for the 113,000 retired state employees served by SERS, none of whom are has received a cost of living adjustment in its pensions since 2003.

Even so, the motion would still have allowed core SERS staff to receive the bonus.

Opponents of the motion argued that it violated a long-standing state principle of trying to keep all benefits the same, from the highest paid official to the lowest.

Schemel’s motion, argued board chairman David Fillman, “creates a second-class person here who doesn’t get the same as everyone else, and I think that creates a real problem of morale within the organization “.

Fillman also said that the alleged $ 250,000 savings touted by Garrity are not going to make or break SERS, a $ 34.5 billion pension fund, financially.

In the end, the motion fell through, with Fillman, former president of the state’s largest workers’ union, Budget Secretary Greg Thall, Mary Soderburg, former Budget Secretary Jim Bloom . a representative of Wolf’s banking secretary, Richard Vague, and two delegates representing the Democratic caucuses in the state legislature voting no.

Supporters, besides Republican lawmakers and Garrity, included investment manager Glenn Becker and Greg Jordan, a former GOP Senate member.

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