Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett on Tuesday laid out a budget plan that calls for increased spending for public schoolchildren, senior citizens and individuals with developmental disabilities after years of cutting or flat-funding many programs.
Corbett also vowed to tackle some of the state’s biggest issues, such as crumbling roads and the troubled pension system. He re-emphasized initiatives to replace state-run liquor stores with twice as many privately operated wine and liquor stores.
“There are some pretty bold proposals there, but ones that are necessary,” said state Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin.
Corbett proposed a $28.4 billion budget that includes nearly 3 percent in new spending. Legislators will spend the next few months hammering out the details of the budget scheduled to be passed by June 30.
“There is certainly a lot to absorb. We have some big issues, and we have some great challenges,” said state Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin/Cumberland.
Problems with the pension system for state workers and school employees have been “grossly ignored,” Kauffman said. The Associated Press categorized the system as a $41 billion unfunded liability last November.
“You have to give this governor credit for saying it’s time and we have to tackle this issue,” Kauffman said.
Corbett, a Republican, said the pension debt is like an avalanche that threatens to stop economic growth and take funding from schools and senior citizens. He wants a new mandatory defined-contribution plan for new hires, reductions in future benefits for current employees and reduced annuity payments to employees who withdraw their contributions.
New hires could be brought into a plan similar to a 401K, Kauffman said.
Rock said it is important to note the pension reform proposal would not affect retirees.
“That’s certainly one (concern) that a lot of people are emailing me about. They want to know what’s going on,” Rock said.
“We can’t impact what’s already been promised,” Kauffman said.
Corbett proposed an increase on the wholesale tax that gas stations pay on gasoline. He suggested using that revenue to finance a five-year, $5.3 billion transportation initiative.
Kauffman said he suspects businesses might pass that tax onto customers, and he said there are better ways to address problems with roads and bridges. Prevailing wage reform could make better use of dollars for those projects, he said.
Corbett proposed maintaining spending for higher education at this year’s $1.2 billion level. His plan would allocate an additional $90 million to K-12 schools.
“It is great to see that the governor is again increasing state support for local schools. While Pennsylvania’s local school districts were severely impacted by the ending of federal stimulus funding, state funding has steadily increased each year,” state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin/Adams/York, said in an email.
Revenue projections indicate about 1.5 percent growth from taxes, according to Kauffman.
“The General Assembly and the (governor’s) administration must continue to put taxpayers and our state’s economic future above political rhetoric and partisanship. We must work together to pass a sensible, practical and fiscally responsible budget,” Alloway said in the email.
Democrats called the governor’s budget and his address out of touch.
Amid swarms of protesters in the Capitol from the Philadelphia Student Union and One Pittsburgh groups, Democrats accused Corbett of neglecting public schools after pushing through huge cuts in public school aid two years ago, and lacking leadership on transportation funding.