Meet RSI's Hero of the Week: Barry Shutt

“I am just a grandfather concerned about Pennsylvania’s pension debt and the burden it will lay on my three grandchildren…and all the children and grandchildren across the state, even those not yet born,” Barry Shutt told a capitol rotunda full of Pennsylvania lawmakers and citizens this week at the unveiling of the Pennsylvania Pension Debt Clock. The retired state employee, an unpaid pension reform advocate and state pension recipient, has been on an 18-month quest to raise public and lawmaker awareness of Pennsylvania’s outstanding pension debt. “Things have to change for me and others if we are to save the economic future of Pennsylvania,” he said. 

Shutt placed the pension-tracking clock in Pennsylvania’s State Capitol building to remind all that walk past it every day—the governor, legislative members and the general public—of the escalating burden of the state’s pensions on taxpayers. The clock tracks the growing debt of the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System.

“It’s growing at over $143 per second,” said Shutt. “Take a 20 minute coffee break and it goes up $172,000. Take an hour for lunch…it goes up $517,000. Each day over $12.4 million.

“Stated another way,” he continued, “Each day increases $1 for every man, woman and child in Pennsylvania or $1,500 per year for a family of four.” Pennsylvania’s public pension debt, which is currently more than $63 billion and still rising, is twice the size of the state’s annual budget.

Shutt said the pension problem began in 2001 with passage of Act 9, which raised benefits for public employees. “With surpluses in the pension funds, the General Assembly with Act 9 began the plunder of those funds by granting themselves and other high officials a 50 percent increase in their pensions while granting a 25 percent increase in pensions for rank and file state workers, teachers and school employees,” said Shutt, who also explained that Act 9 made the additional benefits retroactive for years of service, with neither employees nor employers paying extra into the pension funds. “Act 9 started to drain the surplus from the pension pond, and along with three other legislative acts turned the surplus pond into a $63 billion swamp that is putting Pennsylvania’s economic future at risk for my grandchildren and yours.”

Joining Shutt at the pension clock unveiling was Rep. John McGinnis (R-79) and Commonwealth Foundation Senior Fellow Richard Dreyfuss. Click here to watch Dreyfuss give his eight observations about the state of Pennsylvania's pension system.