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Gov. Corbett comes to town
DENA REEDY Review Staff
, Staff Writer
Although Gov. Tom Corbett does not keep a checklist, there are some issues he would like to see completed by June 30.
Corbett spoke to a small crowd at Ephrata Main Theatre May 29 at an event sponsored by the Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce, where he outlined the four issues he would like to see resolved: the budget, transportation, state pensions costs and privatization of state liquor stores.
When asked by moderator Robb Hanrahan of CBS 21 if that deadline will be met, Corbett seemed confident.
"I’m always optimistic," Corbett said. "We got into this month, and I’m pretty determined we are going to get there.
"The legislature on both sides of the aisle really doesn’t want to be there come July 1," he said. "I think they are going to get it done."
"But those four issues, they are big issues," he said. "And I kind of look at them as, you are sitting on a chair that has four legs, that kind of makes up the four legs of what we need to have done."
Hanrahan said one of the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania today is transportation. He asked if the recent accident on Interstate 81 involving a tanker trunk catching fire and damaging a bridge was Pennsylvania’s wake-up call, similar to Minnesota’s when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis.
Corbett said the collapse in Minnesota and the bridge problems in Washington State were truss issues. He said PennDOT has been out inspecting bridges throughout the state and is "fairly confident that will not happen in Pennsylvania."
Pennsylvania has been talking about transportation for quite awhile, Corbett said.
"The accident on I-81 probably just reinforces the issue," he said, adding it brings about a couple of significant issues, the number one being public safety.
"And I continue to look at it from public safety, from our children who are getting on school buses, and traveling the roads and bridges in Pennsylvania," he said. "Right now 500,000 children get on the school buses in Pennsylvania and travel somewhere over our highways and bridges.
Corbett said that’s why the Transportation Advisory Committee was set up and made recommendations. He said he didn’t act on those recommendations quickly and that made some people upset but "when you come into a situation as I did as governor with a billion dollar deficit, you have to prioritize and get your spending under control and wait for the right time to start talking about certain issues."
Corbett said he thinks this year is the right time to start talking about transportation and one thing that ties in with that is the gas tax.
Corbett said when people go to the pump and fill up, they see the price going up, but what they don’t realize is the gas tax is not going up."It’s a flat tax," he said.
According to Corbett, cars are becoming more fuel efficient and less revenue is coming into the transportation budget to keep up with the needs, which keep growing.
Corbett said one of the things being recommended is taking the artificial cap off the wholesale price of gas, which is capped at $1.25 and "just let that go at a free market and we reduce the gas tax at the pump by 2 cents over two years and take the whole sale tax off over five years.
You do that and we will bring in over $1.8 billion over five years," he said, adding Pennsylvania would not be the first state to do this.
Regarding liquor privatization, Corbett said government should not be selling alcohol.
"It is a conflict of interest, it still is," he said. "You regulate it and you sell it."
"I believe the private sector could do better," he said. "We have 12 LCB stores across Pennsylvania that are not breaking even, they are losing money. Our expenses the last two years have gone up, higher than our revenues.
"We are trying to address the situation fairly," he said.
Hanrahan then asked what is being done to increase tourism in the state.
The budget for tourism is $5 million, which is not a whole lot, Corbett said.
"You see a lot of other states advertising here in Pennsylvania," he said. "Honestly we can’t do a lot of that, but we look to the chambers to do that."
Corbett said when the budget and economy starts growing, more money will be directed toward tourism.
What happens if it’s a three-legged stool? Hanrahan asked. "What do you give up?"
"We project a budget of $28.2 billion," Corbett said. Including pension reform and $90 million more for education.
Corbett said it also includes additional money for a group of people in Pennsylvania who have waiting lists who have severe mental and physical disabilities who have aged out of the system once they turned 21, "we need to reorganize this."
"People feel the economy is coming back and so do I," he said, adding Pennsylvania’s economy is now more diversified.
"Our recovery is a little bit ahead of other places," he said, "but you have to hit the budget and the pension."
Corbett said Pennsylvania has to put $1.6 billion into its pensions. "This coming year we have to add $600 million more to the pension, new money," he said.
All that money, new revenue coming in, 62 cents of every new dollar goes to the pension," he said. "And 38 cents, we are spending in other areas like schools, welfare, tourism, agriculture."
"Right now, 40 percent of our budget goes for education," he said. "That’s K-12 and higher up. And I continue to hear that we still need to put more money in education. I’m not going to argue with you there but it is our number one priority."
He said 38.9 percent goes to the Department of Welfare and the Department of Health and Social Services.
He said if you add those together with the Department of Corrections and the deficit, "we are at 90 percent, so that leaves 10 percent for everything else."
"So you see why I am very determined to get the budget under control," he said. "Now there is no silver bullet. There is a long-term solution that gives us a short-term movement of money."
Government tends to react and not plan for the future, Corbett said.
"That’s where I’m different. I am always looking at the future," he said. "That is why I’m looking at pensions and we are working on education across the board trying to get an education system that now starts training for the jobs of the 21st century not the 20th."
Corbett said he isn’t looking at things from a 2-4-6 year legislative cycle but at a 10 to 20 year cycle.
"But what we are trying to do is get the state going in what I believe is the right direction," he said, "and it has not been easy. We can’t spend non-revenues."
Corbett said he has a grandson and he just turned 20 months.
"Is he going to have the Pennsylvania that we have?" he asked. "We have so much potential right now. We have businesses coming here and looking at Pennsylvania. We have taxes under control."
Corbett has lived up to almost every campaign promise he made, according to Hanrahan. He said the polls don’t reflect that.
"I can honestly go to bed every night and say I made a promise to the people of Pennsylvania on what I was going to do and I have no checklist for what we have already accomplished and we are going to accomplish by the end of the four years."
More CORBETT, page A19