Sen. Eichelberger featured at chamber breakfast

Andrea Rose For Echo Pilot
Sen. John Eichelberger

State Sen. John Eichelberger talked about a number of issues — starting with the budget — during a breakfast meeting Thursday morning sponsored by the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.

Gov. Tom Wolf along with the House and Senate are supposed to agree on a final spending plan by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.

In February, Wolf proposed a $32.3 billion spending plan with a sales tax increase as well as the equivalent of a $25 per capita fee and a record $100 million spending increase in education.

In April, the House of Representatives moved forward a $31.5 billion proposal for overall general fund spending.

So far, nothing has been agreed upon.

"People are still talking about having it done by the 30th," Eichelberger said. "We're about $3 billion short of where we need to be. The governor has said he doesn't support broad-based tax increases. I don't know how we're gonna end up with things."

Eichelberger said 42 percent of the proposed budget is education spending.

"I think we are gonna end up with tax increases, some cuts and some borrowing," he said.

Eichelberger also talked about the pension bill. "There was a lot of press over the fact that we got this done, but it still doesn't change the debt," he said.

Last Monday, Wolf signed into law a bill designed to provide a less expensive pension benefits structure than the current beleaguered plan.

Senate Bill 1 is projected to save more than $5 billion and shield taxpayers from $20 billion or more in additional liabilities if state investments fail to meet projections.

Currently, the pension debt is tabbed at roughly $60 billion and rising.

In addition to reducing the retirement benefits of most future public school and state government employees hired after 2018, it will also shift some risk of investment losses off taxpayers and onto the public employees of tomorrow by introducing a 401k-style benefit.

"I voted for it," Eichelberger said. "I was last-minute for the vote. I think it's a good bill, but it doesn't solve our problem. You're not gonna get rid of that $60-some billion owed. We still have that debt."

He said he has heard from many school directors who are frustrated with the rising costs of pension payments.

The reality, Eichelberger said, is payments are less likely to decrease and more likely to increase in the future.

"We can't afford to cut back our payments. In fact, the payments could go up," he said. "You have to be able to close that debt out. At some point you are gonna have to close that cycle."