Corbett Lists Priorities: Pensions, Transportation, Privatizing Liquor Sales

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In a preview of his goals for the upcoming legislative term, Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday drew attention to growing pension costs, promised to continue efforts to privatize state liquor sales and said he would propose a plan for funding transportation infrastructure.

Mr. Corbett spoke before guests of the Pennsylvania Press Club about the accomplishments of his first two years — including two on-time budgets and no new taxes — but said major work remains when legislators return in January.

“The next year or two coming up, we have some tasks undone,” Mr. Corbett said. “Pension reform is essential.”

State general fund contributions to the retirement systems for state employees and public school employees are projected to grow from $1.163 billion this year to $3.178 billion five years from now.

Mr. Corbett said he also remains committed to privatizing state sales of liquor and wine after previous efforts at dismantling the state system have not succeeded.

“We’re not in the business when it comes to beer,” he said. “We shouldn’t be in the business when it comes to wine and alcohol, and I will continue to fight to get us out of the business.”

In response to a question, Mr. Corbett said privatizing liquor sales ranks with pension reform and transportation funding in his priorities for the coming term. The former prosecutor said he has learned working with the Legislature is different than his past jobs.

“It is working with the House, the Senate, both parties, different groups within the parties and their priorities,” he said. “There are some that say they’re for transportation. There are some that say they’re for privatization. There are some that are for further education reform. It’s going to be a matter of working with the leaders and seeing what we can get done.”

More than a year has passed since a transportation advisory commission appointed by Mr. Corbett delivered its recommendations for addressing a shortfall in the funding needed to maintain the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems. The governor was asked Monday — as he often is — if he will take action to reform funding, in this case: “Will you propose and lobby for a transportation funding package next year?”

“Short answer, yes,” he said. But asked if he would share any specific aspects of a plan, the governor responded, “No.”

His spokesman, Kevin Harley, told reporters afterward they would see a plan when the Legislature returns in January. But he declined to discuss details of a proposal or say when exactly the governor would unveil it.

“He certainly will be sitting down with the legislative leaders and coming up with a plan,” Mr. Harley said.

The governor was away last week at a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, and he said he plans to look during the Thanksgiving weekend at recommendations issued mid-week by his post-secondary education advisory commission. But he expressed approval at the general direction of the report, which was signed by the representatives of business and higher education who made up the commission.

“For the first time, though, with that report, higher education is working with the state to hold down their costs,” he said.

He said he was pleased to see it had recommended tying funding increases to success in improving and maintaining access and affordability.

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