- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A state commission that reviews pension legislation affecting Pennsylvania’s public employees on Thursday elected a new chairman backed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

The Democratic minority caucus in the House of Representatives questioned the timing of John Durbin’s election as chairman of the Public Employee Retirement Commission so soon before an expected debate on pension reform.

“For this kind of reorganization to occur at a time when Republican leaders in state government are contemplating major action with respect to not only pension benefits but also to the state’s required pension payments raises serious questions for us,” the Democratic statement said.

“The responsibility of this commission to provide credible, factual actuarial analysis must not be compromised,” it said.

The growing cost of Pennsylvania’s public pension obligations has prompted state leaders to discuss a range of potential cost-saving measures. Several pension reform plans are in the works with two months left until lawmakers break for their summer recess.

PERC leaders said the vote was part of a routine reorganization that occurs at the commission’s first meeting of each year, which was later than usual this time around.

Durbin, a former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission executive director who was appointed to PERC last year, said a top Corbett aide asked whether he was interested in the chairmanship. Durbin said he was and that he thought he would be a good fit for the post.

The makeup of the nine-member commission, which works with actuarial consultants to gauge the implications of pending legislation, is bipartisan by law, Durbin noted.

“My approach is, let’s form a consensus and let’s move forward,” he said.

Anthony Salomone, who has been chairman since 2008, will continue to be a member of the commission. But he said he is stepping down after six years because he plans to spend more time at his beach house in Delaware.

“I won’t be in Harrisburg as often,” he said.