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State Senator John Gordner was recognized by the National Foundation for Unemployment Compensation and Workers’ Compensation for having spearheaded efforts and legislation that have protected and preserved the integrity of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation system. Gordner was honored with the “UI Integrity Award 2020” at a national conference last week. PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Alex Halper nominated Sen. Gordner and presented him with the award.
Pennsylvania’s UC system experienced significant strain during the Great Recession and early recovery period. In December of 2008, then-Gov. Ed Rendell convened a UC Advisory Board on which Senator Gordner served in his capacity as then Chairman of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee. Despite tremendous pressure, and often on an island among legislative appointees, Senator Gordner remained a stalwart advocate for pursuing a balanced approach that did not disproportionately burden employers.
In early 2011, Senator Gordner introduced legislation that would eventually become Act 6, which allowed Pennsylvanian claimants to remain eligible for federally-funded extended UC benefits, but also included important reforms sought by the employer community which collectively saved the UC Trust Fund over $100 million annually.
By mid-2012, Pennsylvania had borrowed nearly $4 billion from the federal government, the second largest UC debt in the country and greater than comparably-sized states with higher unemployment rates. Costs for employers were increasing by hundreds of millions and an even more precipitous financial cliff was fast approaching.
Senator Gardner’s years of working on UC public policy, establishing himself as the authority among his legislative colleagues, and cultivating relationships with a broad range of stakeholders would culminate in June 2012 with passage of Act 60 of 2012. This ambitious legislation, sponsored by Senator Gordner, included a range of cost-saving measures that put Pennsylvania’s trust fund on a path to solvency. It also authorized the Commonwealth to sell bonds in the private market to pay off the federal debt immediately – a fairly novel concept at the time, but a strategy that would avoid additional federal tax increases that were scheduled to go into effect.
On January 8, 2020, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that Pennsylvania employers had paid off the bond in full and the additional tax being collected to service the bond was no longer being assessed as of Jan. 1. The careful stewardship of the Pennsylvania UI trust fund after the Great recession of 2008-2009 and the measures taken with the leadership of Senator Gordner put Pennsylvania in a much better position to respond to the pandemic recession of 2020.
Photo caption: Roger Geiger (left), National Foundation Board member, and Alex Halper (center), PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs, presented Senator John Gordner with the UI Integrity Award 2020.