Pa. budget woes persist as deadline approaches

Gov. won’t budge on pension, spirits

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HARRISBURG — Here’s how serious the state’s budget situation is getting as the end of the fiscal year looms: Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley has canceled a planned family cruise, Gov. Tom Corbett said Tuesday.

Facing a $1.4 billion shortfall next year, and a constitutional budget deadline that arrives in less than two weeks, the Republican governor said Tuesday he is unwilling to consider new revenue to plug the gap without the Legislature approving plans that would overhaul pension benefits for future state employees and would overhaul alcohol sales in the commonwealth.

“We need to get this done right rather than get this done quickly,” Mr. Corbett said. “If we’re not able to finish by June 30, we’re not able to finish by June 30.”

Mr. Corbett has previously touted on-time budgets as political accomplishments, a major point of pride and a stark contrast with his predecessor, former Gov. Ed Rendell.

The budget proposal the governor laid out in February calls for $29.4 billion in general fund spending, an increase of 3.3 percent from the current fiscal year.

“If they don’t give us the pension and the liquor, then I don’t know where we’re going to have any consideration for revenue,” he said in a Tuesday news conference.

While both the state House and Senate are Republican-controlled, those bodies may not accommodate the governor’s priorities.

The Republican controlled state-House has yet to vote on a proposal that would close the traditional pensions of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and State Employees’ Retirement System to most new hires, and enroll those workers in a combination of limited defined-benefit pensions along with 401(k)-style accounts.

Critics say the proposed cuts to future employees are too deep and, since the plan deals only with future workers, it does very little to address the $50 billion already owed to current workers and retirees. Meanwhile, the Senate has no plans to take action on a bill passed by the House last year to privatize liquor sales in Pennsylvania.

“House Bill 790 remains in the Senate Appropriations Committee while we continue to work on finding a proposal that can win 26 votes in the Senate. At this point, no votes are planned,” said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.

Democrats in the Legislature have been pushing for months for the administration to consider options to raise revenues, such as a severance tax on shale drilling.

“I think that’s an important step for us,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills.

“I don’t like a severance tax,” Mr. Corbett said Tuesday in response to a question from reporters, though his budget secretary, Charles Zogby, said such an option was not off the table.

Kate Giammarise:, 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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