The potential pension crisis looming over the state has both 50th District Senate candidates concerned but focused on different aspects of the issue.

Attorney Mike Muha of Hermitage, a Democrat, and Republican state Rep. Michele Brooks of Jamestown, who represents the 17th District, are vying for the 50h District seat, left open by the retirement of Sen. Bob Robbins, announced last December.

The 50th District consists of Crawford and Mercer counties and parts of Warren and Erie counties.

Both candidates were asked what state government should do to address the looming crisis involving shortfalls in state employee, state college and local school district pensions.

Muha said he holds the senatorial Democratic position, which supports refinancing unfunded pension liability through pension obligation bonds to the tune of about $9 billion.

“Getting the bond early on would help free up some space in liabilities owed more recently,” he said. “The total amount of liability on the back of average Pennsylvania taxpayers keeps varying, but I’ve heard it’s up to $50 billion or so.”

Muha expressed interest in directing pensions in future employees but said any alterations to current employee contracts would be deemed unconstitutional by the state.

He believes the Pennsylvania General Assembly helped create the situation, due to its “short-sightedness into employee contributions. Republicans and Democrats are both at fault for this. Blaming teachers and (state) employees is ridiculous. We have to do everything in our power to protect the taxpayer but make sure liabilities are fulfilled.”

Brooks agreed the numerical facts are too varied, which is a main point of concern for her when addressing what she calls the $50 billion question.

“The concern I have is the actuaries, regardless of which perspective you’re coming from,” she said. “Who (the issue) impacts and when it happens has been a matter of different opinion. We need good information to move forward.”

Actuaries have projected different assessments, including the $50 billion figure, moving forward on the issue, which has held up the potential for a viable solution, she said.

Decrying action for the sake of action, Brooks implied legislators may be flying blind if they make decisions without ensuring they are factually correct and should hold further discussion to pin down precise numbers before figuring out the next steps.

“We have to get everyone at the table, including the actuaries,” she said. “When billions of dollars and people’s lives are on the line, accuracy is very important.”

Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.

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