State Budget Passes, But Without Locally Desired Items

HARRISBURG PA – About two hours before the 2013-2014 fiscal year began, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett stood Sunday (June 30, 2013) before House members and cabinet secretaries and signed the state’s new $28.375 billion spending plan. Although delivered on time, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service reported it is missing three major objectives Corbett called for earlier this year: transportation funding, liquor privatization and pension reform.

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Gov. Tom Corbett

The Legislature’s failure to act on those items – for the most part, they will be delayed for months, The Independent said – will have local impacts:

  • Money that could have been generated from the sale of the state’s liquor stores had been expected to be a boon for education in school districts like Pottsgrove, Pottstown and Spring-Ford;
  • Changes that reduce or defer the costs of pension plans for teachers also would have benefited the districts; and
  • The lack of guidance to find additional money for transportation means municipalities like Lower Pottsgrove, Pottstown and Limerick will continue to struggle with safety and maintenance concerns related to local roads and bridges.

Corbett told The Independent he wasn’t disappointed lawmakers didn’t deliver those solutions to his desk. Instead, he simply defined them as unfinished business. “These aren’t easy things to do,” the governor said.

Lawmakers won’t be in session over the summer, but come the fall Corbett will still push for these issues, he said. Existing bills already working their way through the legislature won’t expire until the end of the legislative session in 2014. “We are making progress,” he said. “We are moving forward.”

Corbett had made a final push to get the state Senate to move a liquor privatization bill Sunday night. He declined to say the issue was gone for good, calling the House of Representative’s vote on a privatization bill earlier this year historic.

On transportation, though, Corbett said he was disappointed to see some House members play politics with what he claimed should be a bipartisan issue. “It’s a bill that requires bipartisan support. We were looking for that,” Corbett said. “We don’t have that … yet.”

As a result, however, Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch said his department may have to start limiting access to bridges this summer because of weight restrictions. “We just lost a construction season by not getting this done now,” Schoch said.

In some cases, such restrictions are already in place locally. Lower Pottsgrove Township, for example, has excluded truck traffic from crossing the Pruss Hill Road bridge because of its deteriorating condition. Township commissioners are hoping for future state funding help to repair or replace it.

The push to get pension reform died last week after many legislators expressed concern over enrolling future employees in a 401(k)-style plan. While some actuarial reports suggested savings from the plan, others said it would wind up costing the state billions of dollars.

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby told The Independent there’s still wide support for switching to a defined contribution plan; that may be the starting point for talks again in the fall. He said he expects the issue to remain in the forefront as pension costs continue to spike in the state budget, and affect school district budgets statewide.

Pottsgrove, as part of its now approved 2013-2014 district budget, included an additional $550,000 from cash reserves to help pay down its future pension costs.

“What you’re going to see, too, is the pressure of those pension increases,” he said. “Those have not been wiped away. In fact, I think they’re going to get worse.”

Before he signed the budget bill, Corbett pointed to some pluses he sees in next year’s budget, topics often overshadowed by negotiations on the major issues. They included a $122 million increase to education funding, and elimination of the inheritance tax on small family-owned businesses.

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