With his first two years as the state’s chief executive under his belt, Gov. Tom Corbett is focusing on the work that lies ahead in the next two of his first term in office.
“We have some tasks undone,” he told a crowd of close to 130 people gathered at the Hilton Harrisburg for one of the highest attended Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon of the year.
Among his highest priorities is addressing the growing cost of the state’s two public pension systems and transportation funding needs.
But at this point anyway, he doesn’t have much to share publicly about how he intends to tackle those issues.
Corbett took office in January 2011 as the state was emerging out of the recession.
Despite the fiscal challenges that his team faced, he noted he has manage to grow the state’s energy industry, spur job creation and achieve some major legislative initiatives such as unemployment compensation reform, a new teacher evaluation system, and increased funding for tax credits for businesses that donate to private school scholarships.
He also has delivered on campaign promises of state government reform such as reducing the state vehicle fleet by 14 percent, cutting administrative spending by 6 percent, and not raised taxes.
Still, he said hefty challenges lie ahead.
Here is a snapshot of what he had to say on a variety of topics he addressed:
Pension reform: He said the state contribution for state employees’ pension is currently costing about $1.6 billion a year. By 2016, that figure will swell to $4.3 billion. He said the state contribution to the school employees’ retirement fund is $856 million this year.
He said pension contributions now comprise 4 percent of the state budget and in five years, that amount will double.
He showed clearly has a handle on the problem. But he didn’t have anything specific to say about what his proposed solutions are for dealing with it.
Transportation funding: He said he will propose a funding package to tackle this issue but refused to share specifics about what it will contain. His press secretary Kevin Harley said later those details will be available after the Legislature returns in January.
Liquor privatization: “I remain committed to that,” he said. “It’s common sense and a philosophical issue. We have no business being in the business of selling booze. We’re not in the business when it comes to beer. We shouldn’t be in the business when it comes to wine and alcohol. I will continue to fight to get us out of the business. I believe consumers should have a greater choice. I believe that 48 other states are indicative that it can work. We should join the 21st century with those other states.”
He ranked this issue right up there with transportation funding needs and pension reform. As for how they all get accomplished, he said it’s a matter of working with legislative leaders and seeing which priorities can get done.
Lottery privatization: He said the reason for exploring it was to see if the private sector can do a better job than the state of generating more revenue for programs that benefit the state’s growing senior citizen population.
“We want to see if we can increase the rate of growth of the lottery if the successful bidder can present a scenario that we believe can do that. If they don’t, you wouldn’t change it,” he said.
The private manager would be required to provide minimum guarantees on lottery revenue growth.
“I think we received a bid so far,” he said.
Higher education: The governor’s commission on postsecondary education issued a report last week offering a recommended road map for the direction the state should go in funding and governing higher education. It included a recommendation to tie funding for colleges and universities to performance, access and affordability.
“I was very pleased to see that,” Corbett said. “Take a look at costs of higher education and how they’ve gone up. I’m very concerned about that.”
He said he think it’s important to hear from higher education officials that they understand that they have to do more to contain tuition growth and not “continue to just pass the bill along to the students and particularly to the parents. That’s what I’ve been trying to get at.”
He also think it’s important for schools to do more to encourage students to pursue education for jobs suited for the 21st century. He noted the state universities are churning out 12,000 teachers a year for 3,000 job openings, on average, that become available in Pennsylvania. He said that makes the state one of the greatest exporters of teachers in the country.
“I didn’t think we want to export our students out. I thought we wanted to keep them here,” he said.