The difference that state government can make in the lives of Pennsylvanians will be clear in the next two weeks. Whether it will be for good or for ill remains to be seen.
The most obvious sign may well be signs, those that would impose new weight limits on and long detours around 33 bridges in Allegheny County and hundreds of similarly deteriorating structures across the state. That's what Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch says will be necessary if the Legislature doesn't enact a funding plan to provide more money for bridge and road repairs and mass transit.
Gov. Tom Corbett's plan would raise up to $1.8 billion in new funding, largely by removing the cap on the tax that gasoline wholesalers pay. That's an improvement over the status quo, but a $2.5 billion version passed by the state Senate is better. It would allow for more improvements by increasing a variety of driver fees and traffic fines.
Transportation is one of three big initiatives that the governor is seeking along with adoption of the state's 2013-14 budget. The others are privatizing the liquor store system and rewriting public employee pension plans. It's long past time to take the business of selling wine and spirits away from state government and put it into the hands of private enterprise. It also is time for Pennsylvania to start controlling its escalating public employee pension costs, which the governor would accomplish by putting new state workers and educators into 401(k)-style plans and reducing the value of future benefits for existing employees.
Those measures all require legislation separate from the budget, which must be passed by June 30, but the governor is right to demand action on all of them this month. Everything comes down to dollars.
The dollars in his budget could be better. The governor's plan for education provides too little, which could trigger local property tax hikes. Also significant is Mr. Corbett's refusal to capitalize on the benefits available under the federal Affordable Care Act; if he agrees to expand Medicaid eligibility, more working Pennsylvanians will receive health insurance coverage and the state could reap dual benefits of more federal revenue and job growth.
Lots of negotiations will take place in the next two weeks. The decisions made now could help or hurt Pennsylvanians for years to come.