Pensions, Road Funding Loom Large For Gov. Tom Corbett In 2013

Allentown Morning Call

State officials are considering “alternatives” to pay for $2.5 billion in badly needed repairs and reconstruction of Pennsylvania’s network of roads and bridges, Gov. Tom Corbett said in a wide-ranging interview Thursday with Capitol reporters.
Officials also are looking, he said, for a solution to an issue bound to dominate the legislative debate in 2013 — the explosion in public pension costs.

The Republican governor also defended his record on education spending, arguing that direct taxpayer support for kindergarten through 12th grade is at its highest point in years. His hard line on taxes and spending, he said, has cast him as the father figure who “makes you come home at 11 o’clock at night and eat your vegetables.”

Q: Fairly or not, a lot of people seem to be indicating that their opinions of you encompass how you handled the [Jerry Sandusky] investigation. Do you worry about that in terms of your re-election?

A: There are going to be some people out there that, no matter what we do, are not going to forgive me for doing that investigation. But you know my history. I’ve been going after child predators for a long time. And 45 of 48 counts is a pretty good result. Did it get done as fast as we’d like? It never gets done as fast as we’d like. It’s not “CSI,” where you get everything done in 24 hours or 48 hours. You move the investigations along as fast as you can.

Q: You have the deadline on the health-care exchange decision coming up in two weeks. Do you care to share a decision?

A: What do you think I ought to do? Here are the facts. And you’re talking the exchange. To have an exchange, we have three options. One is to … create our own. No. 2 is to do a joint one … with the federal government. And No. 3 is to let the federal government do it.

We have sent as [Republican] governors … two different letters to the secretary of Health and Human Services … [and] my [Health] department and I … have sent two different letters to HHS asking for guidance. What are the rules going to be?

This is not a political decision. This is: What are the rules? Because we have to see what they are. How much is it going to cost? There are estimates in Pennsylvania that it will cost between $30 million and $100 million to create the exchange. … Money’s tight. Have we made a decision yet? No. I’m still waiting [for answers from Washington].

Q: Following on that, governor, how close are you to a decision on the Medicaid expansion? Or is that all wrapped together?

A: It’s pretty much the same area. The money really concerns me. [The additional cost to state taxpayers under three expanded coverage scenarios are: $134 million, $177 million or $221 million.] … [Federal taxpayers are] covering 90 percent — but I want to get back to you on this. I think this would be the full share on what we have to pay.

Q: Some Republicans are backing away and saying they would consider raising taxes. Is that something you’re reconsidering?

A: I’m not going to increase taxes right now. But let me go to 2021 when I am no longer governor. No expansion [of Medicaid] … would be $1.5 billion. Partial expansion, and I’m rounding up the numbers, would be $3.6 billion. Full expansion would be $4.7 billion. [Plus the state faces hefty pension costs.] Those are billions of dollars in two decisions — or one decision and something we have to deal with. We couldn’t raise enough taxes. I say that as a general statement. If we did, we would chase every business out of Pennsylvania.

Q: Is there any thinking about tying transportation funding to liquor privatization?

A: I think we really need to look at what is liquor privatization. … What this really comes down to is an issue of consumer choice. I’ve been asking people: “What do you view [as] privatization?” … We’re still working that out. And talking with the Legislature.

Q: How can you fix roads and bridges and get to this major problem without raising new revenue?

A: And that’s going to be an issue. We’ve got to talk with them on how we raise it. For instance, one of the things we have right now are public-private partnerships. That’s going to be very helpful. Because there are people who want to come in, private entities who want to come … to do some privatization, similar to what you see down in Virginia with the hot lanes that are going. And they’re very interested in talking about that.

Q: On pensions, governor, your office said the other day that it will be up to the Legislature and stakeholders to come forward with proposals on how to fix the system. But are there any approaches that you personally favor — either changes in vesting periods, or increased contributions by employees?

A: What we’ve been trying to do is to define the problem. I think it’s important for everybody to understand. You guys are getting it. But there’s a lot of people in the general public who still don’t understand it, how much of an effect it’s having, how much it’s growing. It has an effect on education. It has an effect on welfare because it’s just eating into it. I think my description of it as a tapeworm to the budget is a very accurate one. We have to get this under control.

And we are trying, then, to say, “Here are some options” [based on] what other states have done. There is no single solution to it. There is not one. We will not affect those who have already accrued a pension. The retirees, you know, I’ve seen people say we’re going to take their pensions away. No we’re not. That’s fearmongering. We wouldn’t do that.

Q: Do you like this job? Particularly in comparison with your previous one?

A: It’s a different job. One day as governor is equal to seven days as attorney general. Everything that comes at you. … I jokingly say that as attorney general, 90 percent of the people like you, 10 percent don’t and they’re probably the ones you either put in jail or sued.

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