Corbett focusing on 3 key pieces of legislation

Along with budget, sets sights on transit, pension, liquor laws

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Gov. Tom Corbett has been steadfast that he wants the state Legislature to finish three important pieces of legislation along with a new budget by June 30: transportation funding, liquor privatization and pension reform.

But in response to a question at a news conference in Pittsburgh Friday, the governor said for the first time he would be willing to sign a budget after June 30 if it meant finishing the legislation. That would be a major philosophical move for Mr. Corbett, who campaigned on a promise of passing budgets on time after eight years of late budgets under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

"I want to get [the bills and budget] done," the governor said during a news conference pushing transportation under the rust-stained Liberty Bridge, Downtown.

"I also have room left on my schedule in July. I'm confident we'll get it done [on time]."

That may be an ambitious schedule with only three weeks left given the status of all three issues:

• Transportation: The Senate passed a $2.5 billion bill that the governor described as "more robust" than his $1.8 billion package, but "moving in the right direction." House Republicans previously said transportation wasn't a priority, but they said this week they would review the Senate bill.

• Liquor: Republicans and Democrats have sharp differences whether to sell the state liquor store system to private operators or revamp the existing system to make it more consumer friendly. The House has passed a bill, but a key Senate committee chairman has promised to propose his own bill within two weeks.

• Pension: There are bills in each chamber to put controls on pensions for state employees and public school teachers, but they haven't been on the front burner thus far.

State Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, said after the transportation news conference senators passed the transportation bill overwhelmingly even though it contained provisions Republicans don't usually support, such as eliminating the cap on the tax on the wholesale price of gasoline. But he said his colleagues realized the vital need for more money for roads, bridges and public transportation.

Mr. Vulakovich said he encouraged members of the House to take the same approach on that and the other issues.

"What the governor has done is put a challenge out," he said of the June 30 deadline. "This is part of government. You have to get things done."

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, who didn't attend the news conference, said he was unhappy with critical remarks Mr. Corbett had made in a radio interview earlier about the transportation bill. The Highland Park Democrat, who voted for the transportation bill, said in a telephone interview he thinks it will be difficult to get all three bills passed with the budget.

"It's enough of a hurdle to get a transportation bill passed," Mr. Ferlo said. "To then add liquor and throw in the pension bill would take a lot of political acumen and skill that I don't think this governor has demonstrated."

At the news conference, state Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the Liberty Bridge is among 4,000 structurally deficient bridges in the state and could face a weight restriction in the near future. With a new transportation bill, repairs could begin in 18 months, but it would take more than five years to begin work if there is no additional money, he said.

"Unfortunately, this is an example of what we're talking about when we're talking about deficient bridges," Mr. Corbett said. "We have [a new transportation bill] within our reach in the next few weeks. We can't turn our backs on it."

state

Ed Blazina: eblazina@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1470.


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