Corman Talks 2013 Priorities, Including Transportation, Penn State Structure

Centre Daily Times

How to increase transportation funding and meet the state’s pension obligations are the two biggest issues state Sen. Jake Corman anticipates coming up in the next legislative session, beginning in January.

And he said he’d like to see those issues dealt with in the early part of the year.

Corman, R-Benner Township, said “all private industry,” including chambers of commerce and trucking companies, have said a transportation funding program has to happen. Corman recently told the Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization that there’s no issue “more local” than transportation, but that drivers will have to pay for it.

“Clearly, there’s no free lunch here,” he said during a meeting Tuesday with the CDT’s editorial board.

Corman said the final piece to moving forward transportation legislation is support from Gov. Tom Corbett, who has indicated recently he’s considering the funding options proposed last August in a report by his Transportation Funding Advisory Commission.

Local implications include a lack of funding for bridge and highway maintenance projects and others that can’t see completion as soon as the MPO would like.

“There’s still a very dangerous highway here in State College,” Corman said of U.S. Route 322. “It’s not necessarily a huge traffic problem, but a safety problem.”

On the state pension plans, Corman called it a “monumental problem” that the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and State Employees Retirement System have faced two large losses in the same decade, in 2001-02 and in 2008.

He said steps taken last year to, in part, lengthen the retirement age, lower the system multiplier and reduce costs have helped, but that the state must find further ways to deal with unfunded obligations to retiring state employees.

“We can reform the system all we want,” he said. “We still have those unfunded liabilities from those losses.”

Also in the coming session, Corman said he expects legislators can address the recommendations made last month by Auditor General Jack Wagner, related to changing Penn State’s governance structure, following the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Wagner said he would start with removing the university president as a voting member of the board of trustees.

Corman said he will meet with Wagner next week and said he’s “happy” to take the recommendations and look at improving Penn State’s governance, though he added that even a board of 12 trustees could have a failing job performance. Some of Wagner’s recommendations relate to reducing the size of Penn State’s board.

“I’m not sure if the system itself is what caused the problem,” Corman said. “Having said that, 32 is a lot of people.”

He said there’s a “mood” in the General Assembly to make changes and would hope lawmakers can pass legislation in the first half of 2013. That could include expanding the state Right to Know law to some extent, another of Wagner’s recommendations.

“Penn State always has to be concerned about its mission — to provide education to the masses,” Corman said, noting former president Graham Spanier was concerned about the school’s quality. “At what point do you start to out-price the original mission? I’m certainly scared of where tuition is going to be when my three get there.”

Corman said his main issue with Penn State is allowing for due process and said he has yet to render a personal opinion on the Sandusky case. He said determining facts, as well as the process of doing so, are most important. At that point, legislative and other leaders can render a final decision, and make institutional changes in the hopes that such abuse never happens again, he said.

“There’s been a rush to judgment, I think, on the facts in the case,” he said. “I think the NCAA moved too quick. I think Penn State moved too quick. And they may all be right. I think there’s been this mob mentality, understandably, that’s gotten ahead of the facts.”

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