Jun 7, 2013

Armstrong's Editorial

State Democrats, teachers union betray the poorest students.
   Dramatically rising expenditures are forcing Pennsylvania’s fiscally stressed urban school districts to balance their budgets with draconian cuts and higher taxes.  In Allentown, the Lehigh Valley’s poorest municipality, the ASD’s 2013-14 preliminary budget calls for an 8% tax increase and the furloughing of 155 employees (132 teachers, 12 administrators, 10 custodial, and 1 clerical). Yet, these unprecedented measures leave the district short of a balanced budget, and projections indicate further tax increases and cuts will be necessary next year and possibly the year after that.
  Even though the ASD is regarded as one of the state’s best run urban school districts, it is facing a very  bleak future. The main culprit is the ballooning cost of mandatory PSERS (Public School Employee Retirement System) contributions that will increase by 37% next year (91% over the next three years). The rising cost of these PSERS is in effect transferring funding out of classrooms into this very generous and unsustainable retirement system.  For now, wealthier suburban districts are able to weather these increases, but for already cash strapped urban districts there is no margin left to absorb these new costs.
    It is interesting to note that these same urban areas constitute the base of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party. Geographically, small areas like Allentown provide huge tallies of Democratic votes in state wide elections, that have the effect of swamping Republican turnout in the much larger Republican suburban and rural areas. One would think the state’s Democratic Party would appreciate the value of these voters and act to protect the better interests of this vital constituency.

   Think again, right now Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party  is putting its allegiance to labor unions ahead of the best interests of  urban voters by blocking urgently needed reform of the state’s unsustainable pension system. In other words, the basic educational needs of  poor and minority Democratic urban voters are being effectively abandoned by Democratic leaders so that the lavish benefits of more affluent union workers can be preserved.
   While the cost of their sky high benefits are bankrupting urban public schools, the teachers’ union tactic is to blame Harrisburg. Rather than enter into useful negotiations that could lead to necessary reform, they point the finger of blame away from themselves and their cohorts, the state’s Democratic Party and state employee unions.
  Pennsylvania’s poorest children are now bearing the brunt of the rising cost of state employee luxury pensions. State employee unions and the state Democratic Party want the current administration to cover the pension shortfall with higher state taxes. In effect, they want those who have less to pay more to those who already have more. Pennsylvania’s urban poor would be wise to note the obvious duplicity and callousness of their Democratic elected officials.

Scott Armstrong

Armstrong is an elected member of the Allentown School Board.  The above editorial appears in today's Morning Call


Anonymous said...

Republicans control the house, the senate and the governor's mansion. Not a single Democratic in Pennsylvania can stop a dominant Republican Majority like the one we have right now. Scott Armstrong likes to blame Democrats, even when the Republicans are in charge. Today's Republican party is simply incapable of governing.

Anonymous said...

I don't see the issue as Republican or Democrat. Both parties kicked the can down the road for so long.

I see it as generational. The baby boomer generation has screwed every generation coming after it. Those generations will spend decades fusing the broken back of not only the economy, but every institution in it.

Everything you see around you since the early 70s has been financed and fueled by debt and IOUs. Government debt. Consumer debt. What is debt to GDP today? 104%?

The system is going to fail and it's not fair. However, it's not a question of if but when. The state simply can't meet its obligations. Ever. All of these defined benefit plans and plans like social security were simply never designed or funded properly to handle the size or the life expectancy of the baby boomer generation.

In a way ASD's fortunes will improve after the benefit collapse, reset, whatever you want to call it, occurs.

Bethlehem Native said...

This issue is, of course, not isolated to Allentown or even Pennsylvania. The simplest first step to take is to have all new employees contribute (with their employers contributing a match) to a 401(k) in lieu of a pension. At the very least, it will slow the growth of the problem and eventually resolve it, assuming cities/school districts/counties don't go bankrupt first.
It's been my experience in Arizona however, that administrators don't want to switch to 401(k)s because they're fearful that they won't be able to hire the "talent" that they require. I'm skeptical of this view.

Anonymous said...

True,7:57 thats why Scott gets no respect for his opinions. When he gets to the point when he will chastise his own party thats in charge in harrisburg for their failure to correct the pension problem then i believe he will get the respect for his points of view.Its obvious to me the reason the republicans do nothing about teacher pensions is that it will force them to deal with their own pensions.For years scott was critical of those in office now hes one of them and is finding it hard to make change.Pity,Pity.

michael molovinsky said...

@1:38, armstrong may indeed be partisan, but he certainly gets respect. this editorial appeared today both in the morning call, and on this blog.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 9:24,

I could write an op-ed on the spinelessness of our Republican legislators in the face of union pressure over the pension reform bill; would it change any of the facts in my current op-ed?

Anonymous said...

Tax increases. More tax increases. And, to achieve the just the right balance --- a few MORE tax increases.

THIS is what is in store for Pennsylvanians, even if no one has the brains / guts to say it and / or host it publically.

At some point, the American people WILL begin to pay for their slavish devotion to bigger and bigger Government at all local, state and Federal levels.

Please enjoy.


Anonymous said...

By the way the 12:12 post was me, I forgot to sign it.

And Rolf, you are correct, the ASD is projecting it will need to raise taxes 8% every year for the next five years to achieve a balanced budget. This tax increase will not preclude further cuts. Yet according to the AEA the pensions must be preserved? And even worse our elected officials are doing nothing to address the problem?

Scott Armstrong

michael molovinsky said...

scott @3:31, Yet according to the AEA the pensions must be preserved?

most people view me as a conservative. although i realize that the pensions are an anchor weighing down the schools, both locally and on the state level, i favor honoring the contracts. i.e., the taxes going to pay for the hockey arena and private office buildings should go the the educational system. pensions, and how to fund them need work, but we must honor all existing contracts.

Anonymous said...


Honor the existing pensions but please on a sliding scale grandfather these existing pensions. Otherwise the results will be disastrous.

Scott Armstrong

All hat and no cattle said...

It is interesting to note that these same urban areas constitute the base of the Democratic party. Very True. Huge Democratic tallies in urban areas trump Republican suburban and rural areas. Again very true.Yes, Union leadership will always endorse Democratic party principals and candidates.Union rank and file is a different story.There are conservative Democrats,lets just say they are not liberal.In the voting booth they vote conservative.They usually dont vote for bible thumpers but Reagan got their votes and in 2000 helped Bush squeak by.Suburban and rural areas are the base of the republican party so why no push back when its said that those areas weather the increases in school district spending in reguards to pensions.They are in charge.In the state, republican office holders are the majority so why are they afraid of union leadership,after all they dont get their votes or financial support.They should be able to pass whatever they want, voters dont make laws directly.So lobby your buddy Pat browne after all hes majority whip and on the state education committe.Am the first to admit pensions and benefits are out of control so lets do what we gotta do to change that

Anonymous said...

Anon. June 7, 2013 at 9:24 AM. As a Baby Boomer I can't disagree with your assessment of our role in the financial collapse of the country. After all, look at all the docs and lawyers making major dollars and still whining about paying back taxpayer subsidized student loans. However let's not let our parents generation (the "greatest' until about 1960) off the hook. They gave us post-war excesses and then the failed War on Poverty which piled trillions of dollars in debt on the country.