Schools, Roads, Taxes Among Corbett Budget Topics

Associated Press

Public workers’ pensions, education spending and highway improvements are high on the list of likely topics as Gov. Tom Corbett marks the midway point in his first term with Pennsylvania’s annual budget address.

The Republican governor has described many aspects of what he wants to do in a series of recent interviews and public appearances, but his speech at the state Capitol on Tuesday will undoubtedly contain some surprises in an agenda that has been a work in progress.

Corbett is expected to announce a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that increases spending slightly over this year’s $27.7 billion approved budget to account for the rising costs for public employee pensions, health care for the poor, debt and prisons.

He has said he will call for changes to pensions in an effort to lower the government’s cost and is expected to roll out a long-term plan to improve the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit that revolves around a plan to raise wholesale fuel taxes.

He also has said he would ask the Legislature to maintain level funding for higher education, add new state police cadet classes and devote more money to help those with intellectual disabilities. He has left the door open to an increase in funding for public schools, already an enormous share of state spending.

For the past two years, Corbett has held the line on income and sales taxes while lowering broad-based business taxes, and he is expected to continue that in his third budget.

Corbett’s press secretary, Kevin Harley, said Corbett will provide more details about his approach to pensions and transportation, also big ticket items in state government.

However, Corbett may not tackle the question of whether to expand Medicaid eligibility under the federal health care law, a move he has said might not be affordable.

Corbett’s first two budgets were complicated by the economic downturn, sluggish state tax collections and the disappearance of temporary federal aid to recession-wracked state budgets.

Recently, he has been making the case for several initiatives that he says can relieve pressure on the state government’s budget.

A British company is in line to take over management of the Pennsylvania Lottery, the governor just took the wraps off a major plan to privatize the state’s liquor stores and he will propose structural changes to pensions for state employees and public school teachers that could have a major fiscal impact for years to come.

The state lawmakers who will attend the budget address will want to know everything they can about where Corbett wants to spend any new money.

After the speech, lawmakers begin weeks of hearings to delve into the proposal’s various parts and pore over the proposal, program by program. The 2013-14 spending plan that passes, probably in about five months, will look different in many respects.

Corbett’s speech was still being fine-tuned late in the day on Monday.

“He’s very involved” in writing the budget addresses, Harley said. “He basically sets the outline up, gets drafts. He spends a lot of time with this.”

Last year’s budget, which met a goal of the governor’s when it was passed before the July 1 start of the fiscal year, amounted to $27.7 billion. It included a tax credit to pave the way for construction of a major petrochemical refinery in western Pennsylvania and another tax credit designed to advance his agenda to open up taxpayer-financed alternatives to public schools.

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