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Pension cost-of-living hike could go to a vote

Plus, Pa. House ties tuition freeze to university funding.

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The logo of PA Post, a free daily newsletter delivering the top news from across Pennsylvania every day.

A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Wednesday, November 1, 2023
In today's edition: Pension watch, funding fix, public/private, gassed up, on offense, gathering rules, and female firefighters. Welcome to November.

State House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D., Montgomery) said moving a cost of living adjustment bill that would benefit state pensioners is a priority in the coming weeks, PennLive reports. 

“The idea that you’re asking a pre-Act 9 annuitant, many of these people are in their late 80s, to survive on a pension that is insufficient to provide for themselves, that is just not appropriate,” Bradford said.

Almost 69,000 former public sector employees, including teachers who retired before 2001, missed the last adjustment and say their stagnant pension payments are worth even less amid soaring inflation.

THE CONTEXT: Two pieces of legislation on the subject advanced out of the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee in late June.

The first bill, introduced by state Rep. Dan Deasy (D., Allegheny), would give state pensioners who retired before July 2001 a COLA ranging from 10% to 20%, with higher amounts for those who have been retired longer.

On average, a Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System or SERS retiree would get a $1,600 boost in the first year, while a Public School Employees’ Retirement System or PSERS retiree’s increase would be $2,175, according to the Independent Fiscal Office, a state agency.

The second bill, introduced by state Rep. Steven Malagari (D., Montgomery), is similar to Deasy’s, but proposes higher increases: from 15% to 24.5%. Both bills would pay out the increases over a 10-year period.

Critics of such changes have said Pennsylvania’s state pensions don't have enough assets to cover the liabilities they owe to pensioners now. In 2015, the systems’ combined deficit was $60 billion, but Pew, which tracks pension fund health, says SERS and PSERS have improved in recent years.


“If he’s convicted on the embezzlement case, that’s a real serious breach of trust of the union members. The other one, if he’s convicted on that — it’s a violent crime. I would say the odds were decent that he’ll go to jail.”

—Law professor and former federal prosecutor Michael Levy on ex-Philly union boss John Dougherty’s embezzlement trial, which starts today
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At Spotlight PA, we put voters front and center in our nonpartisan election coverage. Get all the information you need to make an informed vote this November by visiting our Election Center website

» See how judges affect you and the issues you care about most

» Pa. Supreme Court 101: What it is, why it matters, and more

» Complete guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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» Complete guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» What to know about the judicial retention questions on Pa. ballots

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» Elecciones Pa. 2023: Traducciones al Español

» VOTER READY: Join us TOMORROW, Nov. 2 from 6-7 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on voting rights in Pennsylvania, important dates and deadlines, and answers to your remaining Election Day questions. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.

» RESULTS REVIEW: Join us, the New Pennsylvania Project, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts on Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6-7 p.m. for a Q&A on the election results. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.


Overlooking Emporium in Cameron County with Jeffrey and Denise D. Have a Pennsylvania photo you want the whole commonwealth to see? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A high-altitude view of Emporium below, surrounded by mountains.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.FUNDING MOVE: The state House on Tuesday cleared a $643 million appropriations bill for four state-related universities — with a catch, TribLIVE reports. The bill, now headed to the state Senate (which returns Nov. 13), requires the schools freeze tuition next year. Tuition hikes and transparency concerns have contributed to lawmaker pushback around the funding, now delayed well into the fall semester.
  • RELATED: Pa. House passes a long-sought expansion of state's ethnic intimidation statute, via @StephenJ_Caruso

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.PUBLIC POSTS? The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments in a pair of cases that test the ability of public officials to block critics from their personal social media pages, per the AP. In Pennsylvania, an April court decision raised the bar for when a government official’s personal social media posts are public records, likely making citizen access more burdensome and costly, Spotlight PA reported.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.FIRE-POWERED: Running one commercial leaf blower for an hour produces as much pollution as driving 1,100 miles in a car, according to a new study, via the Morning Call (paywall). That same study says lawn equipment in Pennsylvania emits as much pollution annually as more than 10 million cars — Montgomery County ranked worst — and that's fueling calls to curb gas-powered equipment statewide.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.ATTACK ADS: Luzerne County Councilor Stephen Urban has released footage of alleged vandalism that occurred at his home days before an incident that saw him criminally charged for chasing a group of kids with a baseball bat. In related news: Council candidate Harry Haas, a fellow Republican, is taking issue with outside PACs sending out mailers featuring him, Urban, and a Louisville Slugger.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIVATE EYES: Amendments to Lewisburg’s social gathering ordinance will not move forward, and while the ACLU is calling that a win for constitutional rights, the advocacy group says the existing ordinance requiring government permission to host private gatherings on private property still needs to go, the Daily Item reports. The rule even extends to birthday parties with 25 people or more.

NEW TEMPLE: A 20,000 square foot Mormon temple is coming to a 5.36-acre property on Rutherford Road in Harrisburg. It joins a temple in Philadelphia and one in progress near Pittsburgh

UNDER PRESSURE: U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.)'s unflinching support for Israel has drawn protests, a letter from former staff, and a weekend interaction that ended with a one-time supporter's event ejection.

BAT VACCINE: WaPo (paywall) has a look at efforts to vaccinate bats against a fungus that is killing them in their sleep in states like Pennsylvania and further decimating their vulnerable populations.

SCARY SZN: It's the day after Halloween, but scary season is year-round in Pennsylvania thanks to a hairstylist-cum-podcaster with a penchant for telling the commonwealth's most eerie and unnerving historical yarns.

ATTACK LINE: Meet the women who recently formed a century-old Centre County fire company's first all-female attack line and drew plaudits from as far away as Washington, D.C., via Spotlight PA.

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be TRIPLED.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Illusory

Congrats to our daily winners: Eddy Z., Jody A., Stacy S., Barbara F., James L., Don H., John E., Mark C., David T., Jon W., Richard A., Daniel M., Bruce B., Mike B., Carol S., Wendy A., Elaine C., Vince S., Beth T., Steve D., Susan N.-Z., Nancy S., Tish M., Judith D., James B., Daniel S., Tracy S., Kim C., Tyler K., Joel S., Sharon B., William Z., Kimberly D., John P., Amy D. S., Tom M., Dan A., Craig E., Vicki U., and Stanley J.
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