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PAC questions state senator who breaks pension pledge

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A newly sworn in state senator finds himself in hot water with one group who supported him on the campaign trail.

Republican state senator Wayne Langerholc who serves District 35 in Bedford, Cambria, and Clearfield counties, signed a pledge to not take a state pension.

Organizers of the political action committee Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP) thought they had a candidate they could believe in to bring pension reform the state.

After Langerholc signed himself up for a state pension, the support that Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania had for the new senator now ends.

Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania CEO Leo Knepper said "it's one of the things we check up on, when we make an investment in candidates. When they sign our pledge and everything, we actually follow up to make sure that they follow through with it."

"He was here in our office. He told us he understood the financial distress that the pension system was in, that he didn't want to add to the taxpayers burden, and then to have him turn around and do that, it was really shocking," Knepper said.

Knepper believes the State Employees Retirement System (SERS) creates career politicians.

"There are 20-25 other lawmakers who aren't affiliated with our organization, who have opted out of the pension. It's a difficult decision to make, but it's something that separates you from the other career politicians who are in Harrisburg," Knepper said.

It's what has Langerholc in hot water with this group.

"We would be more than happy to accept a phone call from him, but at this point, I don't particularly feel the need to reach out to him. It's up to him to offer an explanation," Knepper said.

The head of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania said he hadn't heard from Langerholc, yet so FOX 43 News dropped by the senator's office to hear his side.

In a statement Langerholc said "I was not aware months ago that the decision I would be required to make at the start of my term would affect my ability to enter a 401(k) style plan at any point in the future."

"There is no reason to be in a pension system that you're trying to abolish," Knepper said.

"As I said during the campaign, I do not want to collect a defined benefit pension. A 401(k) option, however, would be similar to what a large majority of my constituents currently have," Langerholc said.

On a wall filled with other candidates supported by CAP, Knepper said there is no longer any room for Langerholc.

"Regardless of whether you consider yourself liberal, conservative, whatever, dishonesty is universally disapproved of by people," Knepper said.

A SERS spokesperson said she can't speculate on state pensions changing to a 401(k)plan, but she did confirm if a member does not join SERS within 30 days, they lose their right to membership in the system.

CAP spent $15,000 on a campaign to support  Langerholc's stance on pension reform, but Knepper isn't buying the senator's reasoning for signing up for the state's pension plan.

Langerholc full statement on pension questions

Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr. (R-35) responded to questions about his retirement options with this statement:

After my election, I was informed that if I did not elect to go into the retirement system, I would be forever barred from participating in a 401(k) style plan that has been discussed and voted on by the Senate and the House.  After reflection on the information provided, I elected to be in the SERS system to preserve my ability to opt into a 401(k) style plan.

The retirement form language which is based on state and federal law is clear.  “If I do not elect to become a member of SERS within 30 days of the effective date of my current employment, or if I decline to become a member of SERS, I will not have another opportunity to elect to become a member of SERS….during my current employment.”

I was not aware months ago that the decision I would be required to make at the start of my term would affect my ability to enter a 401(k) style plan at any point in the future.  As I said during the campaign, I do not want to collect a defined benefit pension.  A 401(k) option, however, would be similar to what a large majority of my constituents currently have.

I stand ready to support meaningful pension reform.  In fact, I have already committed to co-sponsoring legislation that will convert legislators’ defined benefit plan to a 401(k).

In addition to fighting for pension reform, I am not accepting a taxpayer-paid vehicle or per diems, and I will never vote to increase my pay.  I have also already signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation that requires receipts before any reimbursement from state accounts are made.

I look forward to voting for long-overdue pension reform in the near future that will protect the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.