Excessive celebration: State officials left too many major issues unsolved

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There's not much to celebrate in the news that state lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett got a budget deal done before the June 30 deadline.

The $28.4 billion budget enacted Sunday means everybody in government will continue to get paid and state offices will stay open for business. But Mr. Corbett failed to accomplish the three big goals he announced when he introduced his spending plan -- funding transportation, reforming the state pension system and getting government out of the liquor business.

Let's start with transportation. Mr. Corbett and Democratic and Republicans leaders promised to address Pennsylvania's deteriorating bridges, crumbling roads and crippled transit systems. But Mr. Corbett couldn't capitalize on a Republican majority in both chambers, and lawmakers dug in their heels to a standoff.

A Senate plan would have produced $2.5 billion, but the House wouldn't go along. Democrats complained it would do too little and Republicans said that lifting a cap on gasoline taxes paid by wholesalers was nothing but a disguised tax increase. The legislative stalemate means more traffic and longer detours as weight restrictions are added to more bridges (Pittsburgh's Liberty Bridge is a contender for that), plus bigger potholes and bumpier rides. For Allegheny County, at least part of the Port Authority's annual $30 million from the state could be in jeopardy, which could trigger a contract provision that would void valuable union concessions made last year.

Even if lawmakers adopt a transportation plan in the fall, which is now the best-case scenario, the state will miss a full construction season and repairs will cost even more when made later.

When it comes to pensions, Mr. Corbett promised big changes in the plans for state workers and public school teachers, but he couldn't even get agreement on a less-ambitious proposal affecting only new employees.

Finally, there's the state monopoly on wholesale and retail sales of bottled wine and spirits. As one of only two states with near-total government control, this issue has as much symbolic importance for Pennsylvania as practical impact.

The effort to drag the state away from this vestige of Prohibition has gone further than ever this year, with separate privatization plans advanced in the House and Senate. However, despite Republican claims to be the party of free enterprise and Mr. Corbett's vow to move Pennsylvania forward, he has yet to persuade the members of his own party to make a deal.

What is it about the 21st century that Pennsylvania's elected officials can't accept? Perhaps the legislators see Mr. Corbett's miserable level of public approval and figure there's no reason to back his initiatives. They can expect the same fate if they can't craft solutions on these three critical issues in the fall.

The governor and the legislators are the employees of Pennsylvania taxpayers. It's time for the public to let them know who's boss.


First Published July 2, 2013 12:00 AM


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