Scarnati urges quick approval of transportation plan

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HARRISBURG -- With the governor's major policy proposals still undisclosed in advance of his budget speech next week, a top Senate Republican said this morning that prematurely linking those proposals in an effort to ensure approval amounts to "Washington-style politics."

Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, told reporters during a wide-ranging interview that he's heard that Gov. Tom Corbett's anticipated plans for privatizing liquor sales and for finding more transportation infrastructure dollars may be connected as supporters attempt to drum up votes.

"I think that that is a showing of bad faith and quite frankly, I think that people are sick of Washington-style politics," Mr. Scarnati said. "I'm not going to play the game. I want transportation done. It should rise and fall on its own merits."

He urged approval of a transportation funding plan before the June budget negotiations if possible, noting that the issue continues to have "great bipartisan support."

"If we delay this into June, we delay $300, maybe $400 million extra going into roads and bridges this fiscal year," he said. "I think we've talked about it enough."

He did not list privatizing liquor sales as a top priority, but said modernizing those sales should also be pursued to find savings.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley responded that the governor soon will be explaining his plan for privatizing liquor sales and how the resulting revenue from selling licenses should be used.

"I think it will all be explained in the very near future," said Mr. Harley, adding that an announcement could come before Tuesday's budget address.

The Senate GOP leader also expressed some skepticism at tying public-school funding too closely to accomplishing certain pension reforms, an approach that has been indicated by the governor and his budget secretary in recent days.

Mr. Scarnati said any potential cuts to public education would be "a very sensitive issue" that would make agreeing on a final budget more difficult.

"I don't see the likelihood of this body going along very well in reducing funding for public schools," he said.

On possible pension reforms, Mr. Scarnati said switching new employees to 401(k)-style plans would be "the tourniquet that stops the bleeding" of the underfunded retirement systems for state workers and school employees.

As for current state employees, the senator said he wants to see more details on how much money could be saved if adjustments were made to how future benefits accrue for those workers.

The state's two major pension system have unfunded liabilities of more than $44 billion, with the required state contribution for next fiscal year rising by about $511 million.

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Harrisburg bureau chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.


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