Corbett Stresses State Pension Crisis In 2013 Agenda

Philadelphia Inquirer

In a speech light on details Monday, Gov. Corbett presented a broad outline of his agenda for 2013, saying his chief priorities are addressing the pension crisis, privatizing state liquor stores, and combating the high cost of college.

“Pension reform is essential,” Corbett told a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon audience. He noted that the state will pay $1.6 billion to cover public pension obligations next year.

He said he would continue to fight for liquor store privatization, which failed to get traction in the legislation last session.

“I remain committed to that,” Corbett said. “We have no business in the business of booze.”

But Corbett did not mention another issue viewed as critical by many lawmakers and others, transportation funding.

When asked whether he would present a plan next year, he gave a one-word answer: “Yes.”

Later, his spokesman, Kevin Harley, said the governor would offer a plan in his February budget address, but offered no specifics on how to pay for it.

The state Senate may well get the jump on the governor.

“We’re tired of waiting,” said Sen. John Rafferty (R., Chester), chairman of the Transportation Committee, who is preparing a package of bills to introduce in January that would dedicate up to $2 billion for bridge and road repair. “It’s not just a necessity, but essential for Pennsylvania.”

Rafferty said he would consider proposing a bump in the oil-franchise tax, which is paid by gasoline dealers and likely would be passed on to motorists at the pump.

Corbett also praised a report from the Higher Education Commission that he formed that would tie college funding increases to the number of graduates getting jobs.

“We can’t continue to pass bills to students and their parents,” he said.

Corbett also said the state would be unable to foot the bill to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, set to begin its rollout in 2014.

He said the state “could not absorb” costs that could total roughly $178 million, depending on the income threshold that is established.

Advocates of the Affordable Care Act say new costs would be offset by large reductions in uncompensated health-care costs now being covered by the state.

Despite saying the state could not afford the expanded Medicaid coverage, Corbett stopped short of saying the state would not take part in the program.

Speaking just two months shy of the halfway mark in his first term, Corbett made only an offhand remark about his plans for a second term:

“If you want Susan to remain first lady, reelect me in 2014.”

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