Harrisburg Happenings: Budget, Redistricting
The fiscal year is about to end... and budget talks are heating up.
Pennsylvania has less than two weeks to complete a 2013-14 state budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
It won't be easy.
Gov. Tom Corbett framed his plan in February with five initiatives: private liquor sales, public pension reform, a transportation funding increase, a moratorium on Medicaid expansion and a corporate tax overhaul.
The House has approved his corporate tax overhaul, making it the early leader among the governor's initiatives.
Stumbling badly out of the gate is the liquor-privatization plan that the governor said he wanted on his desk by July 1. It will be difficult just passing a $28.3 billion budget in the current financial climate. Approving an on-time budget as well as a controversial liquor-privatization will not be easy.
The Republican chairman of the Senate panel tasked with liquor privatization has declared a House-passed liquor bill dead. He's unveiled a new bill, but it doesn't appear he has the votes to get it out of the Senate. State Stores would survive, for now, under the proposal, and the state would remain in the wholesale liquor business – two items that have raised hackles among the strident privatization forces.
Reforming public pension plans and increasing funding for transportation infrastructure have bipartisan supporters and opponents. Both remain in the running but their chances of gaining traction before July 1 are iffy at best.
The Senate appears poised to strip all provisions out of the governor's pension plans except to move all future state pension-plan enrollees into defined-contribution plans such as 401Ks.
Meanwhile, the House majority seemingly wants to link any action on boosting transportation infrastructure funding – a Senate favorite – with "reforms" to Pennsylvania's prevailing-wage laws, which govern wages paid for state-funded construction projects. Both have the potential to snag any prospects of an on-time budget.
Unfortunately, the governor doesn't need the legislature's approval to reject Medicaid expansion.
It seems that compromise and lowered expectations will be critical to adopting a budget by June 30. I'm working day in and day out to weigh the needs of our region and statewide to prepare myself to vote in the most responsible way.
Hitting closer to home was the news of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to uphold a redistricting plan.
The 5th Legislative District now represented by my colleague and neighboring State Representative Greg Lucas will be moved eastward, and beginning in the next election cycle, Erie County will have one less voice representing it in Harrisburg.
When the new maps take effect, the 3rd Legislative District will consist of McKean and Washington townships and Districts 2 through 24 – minus District 21 – in Millcreek Township. The new district also will include Edinboro.
In the months ahead, we need to rebuild a deteriorating economic infrastructure that has led to population and job losses. We need effective leadership to respond to crises like the possible layoffs at the local GE locomotive plant.
I have no doubts that the region will not only endure but prosper in the long run. We have the resources, the skilled workers, the know-how and the heart to do this.
If you have any questions or concerns about the budget or the new district maps, please don't hesitate to reach out to our office. We're located in the Peninsula Plaza at 1101 Peninsula Drive, Suite 209 in Millcreek Township—and our phone number is 814-835-2880.