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August 2012

Friday Happy Hour: Déjà Vu Edition


Ah, the arrival of Labor Day, as well as the college football season. The combination is enough to take our minds off a new impending fiscal crisis, our decaying infrastructure, a former senator’s health and the demise of journalism as we know it. We’ll revel for a moment in our favorite fall sport before turning to – drum roll, please – a new impending fiscal crisis, our decaying infrastructure, a former senator’s health and the demise of journalism as we know it. 

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Friday Happy Hour: Nutrition Edition


Augusta National Golf Club rushed headlong into the 1950s this week when it added its first two female members. Club Chairman Billy Payne – not to be confused with the Little Feat keyboardist of the same name – called it a “joyous occasion.” We continue to hold out hope that we’ll be first in line when the club finally agrees to admit the un-rich.

Following up on our item from last week regarding obesity rates, and in response to a question from an inquisitive reader, Pennsylvania ranks 20th nationally, squeezing in between Delaware and Nebraska. For the sixth consecutive year, Mississippi has the dubious distinction of leading the obesity pack, while Colorado brings up the, um, rear. The complete rankings can be viewed here.

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Friday Happy Hour: Good-Hair Edition

Good hair

We’ll begin with a bit of good news this week: compared with other states, Pennsylvanians tend to be merely overweight, but not obese. According to the Centers for Disease Control, adult obesity rates exceed 30 percent in 12 states, but noooo, not PA, which, um, weighs in with an average obesity prevalence of only 28.6 percent. Obesity rates in Pittsburgh are higher than in Philly, providing further evidence that a cheesesteak is the healthy alternative to a Primanti Brothers’ sammich.

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House Holds Joint Hearing on Pension Reform


By: Brittany Foster

This past year, we heard rumblings about pension reform and in this coming year, we expect it to escalate to a full battle cry, beginning with Tuesday’s joint public hearing between the House Financeand State Government committees.

The committees listened to brief summaries of a litany of bills on pension reform that they are sure to debate fervently through the fall. Among those present to explain their bills were RepresentativesKriegerPetriBoydEvankovich and Kampf. The recurring theme of their bills was defined contribution.

Pennsylvania’s current pension system for state employees is a defined benefit. This plan guarantees each retired employee a specific monthly sum based on length of service and income history. A defined contribution is more like a 401k plan in which the employee and employer both deposit a certain percentage of the employee’s income into a retirement account. The magic number at yesterday’s hearing seemed to be four percent from both the employee and employer.  The payout is not based on years of service or amount earned but, rather, on the investment performance of the individual’s retirement account.

Regardless of the form that pension reform takes, it faces a great number of challenges. First, case law has already determined that an employer cannot force an existing employee into a new pension plan because that constitutes a breach of contract. Therefore, any changes to the system must be optional for current employees although they can be incentivized to switch. Secondly, the administrative cost of maintaining two separate retirement systems is unclear.  Changing to a defined contribution plan would require oversight of the accounts and administration over the existing defined benefit plans.

While the public was privy to testimony from experts from the Commonwealth Foundation and theKeystone Research Center, no real solution to the current unfunded liability of legacy debt was presented. The pension funds will still owe a great deal of money in the form of pension pay outs to current employees and those who are already retired. No switch can retroactively fix that problem.

Finally, as this debate wears on, legislators face a catch-22. Promising large benefits to employees wins friends among state workers and their families.  Meanwhile, the problem of funding those benefits comes at a cost that few elected officials are eager to shoulder.  Decreasing benefits is unpopular but reducing debt brings smiles to most taxpayers.  There is no free lunch and the Commonwealth has been, in effect, putting the bill for meals at the pension table on a credit card for years now.  Employees have paid the share required of them by law and the pension fund’s investment advisers were doing a great job – until the economy tanked.  These realities remain.

As this legislative session winds down and the next starts up, expect your PA political news to come with a large helping of pension reform. 

The Triadvocate is a publication of Triad Strategies, LLC, a bipartisan lobbying, public affairs, strategic communications, grassroots advocacy, issue management consulting firm located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh


Friday Happy Hour: Summertime Blues (& White) Edition


This week we cast our Happy Hour nets across the commonwealth and the universe as we steam through the dog days of summer in the city, back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty, and suffering from a bad case of summertime blues.

On Sunday night, NASA plunked the rover Curiosity smack down onto the ol’ Red Planet. Although initially thought to be a smooth landing, we now have video indicating otherwise. The event left Mars with no choice but to retaliate.

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Friday Happy Hour: Spoiler Alert Edition


Clearly, the most important news of the week revolved around chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. Last month, the owners of Chick-fil-A – not waffling a bit – expressed their support for what they call “the biblical definition of family,” touching off a noisy national nattering over the virtues of tolerance. Tolerance extremists (oxymoron alert – wait for it) refused to dine at Chick-fil-A and went so far as to get into the firm’s grille (pun intended) by staging a national “kiss-in” at restaurant locations. Intolerance extremists flocked (pun intended) to the fast-food enterprise on Wednesday and, coupled with those who were just hungry for a chicken sandwich, delivered a sales record for the restaurant chain. The news media elevated the issue by fostering the idea that dining or not dining at Chick-fil-A constitutes a referendum on gay marriage. But hey, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich.

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