Corbett addresses fiscal realities

February 6, 2013

Alot of us probably find that when performing our jobs, it’s difficult to make everyone happy all the time. Some days, it might be tough to satisfy anyone. We suspect that was the case Tuesday when Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his budget proposal. Most probably found something to like in the plan laid out by the governor, but it’s doubtful that anyone was totally pleased with every element of the revenue and spending framework. All in all, however, we find more to like than dislike in Corbett’s vision for the state’s fiscal future.

Perhaps the most controversial proposal from the governor is his bid to alter the pension plans for schoolteachers and state workers. Under the governor’s plan, those who already have retired would see no changes, but current teachers and state employees would see a reduction, not in the benefits they have already accrued, but in retirement money they would earn going forward.

The public employees’ unions are threatening to sue on constitutional grounds, and even some lawmakers in Corbett’s own Republican Party seem less than enthusiastic about the proposal.

We believe it’s a reasonable step to ease what has become a fiscal crisis for the state.

Frankly, the public workers received a politically motivated sweetheart deal from the state at a time when the state’s investments were reaping huge returns. Then that gravy train went off the tracks, twice, and the problem has snowballed ever since.

It has been common over the past few decades for private companies to do away with defined-benefit retirement plans and shift employees into programs such as 401(k)s (which Corbett proposes for new public-sector hires). This is really no different. It’s called dealing with fiscal reality. For too long, state “leaders” have kicked the can down the road on this issue and others – property tax reform springs instantly to mind. Difficult situations require difficult solutions. We don’t expect the public workers to be happy about seeing their future retirement funds trimmed, but the state, unlike the federal government, must live within its means. The alternative is to keep raising taxes on Pennsylvania citizens, or to slash spending elsewhere in the state budget, including education.

We also give the governor credit for stepping away from his oft-repeated pledge not to raise taxes. Again, in a nod to fiscal reality, Corbett is proposing a phased-in increase of the wholesale gasoline tax in order to pay for a $5 billion-plus transportation program. Pennsylvania’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, particularly its bridges, is a problem that cannot be ignored. Paying a few cents more per gallon at the pump – and the tax increase will no doubt be passed on to consumers – is a reasonable way for those who use the roads and bridges to pay for their upkeep.

We also fully support Corbett’s push to finally privatize the antiquated, inefficient, consumer-unfriendly, sometimes downright embarrassing state liquor store system, and to use proceeds from the transfer of wine and liquor sales to the private sector to increase education spending.

Local lawmaker Pete Daley chastised the governor for what he called a “cynical, starkly political strategy” of tying the privatization plan to money for schools, but one has to expect that Corbett would need to sweeten the pot, so to speak, in order to gain enough support to make the proposal reality. In a Legislature with a significant number of Democrats who are beholden to labor unions and some Republicans who probably pine for the “good old days” of Prohibition, it’s not an easy battle. But it’s one we hope the governor wins.

Our Legislature doesn’t have much of a track record of addressing big problems with bold solutions, but Corbett has given lawmakers several opportunities to do just that, and if they truly profess to serve for the good of all Pennsylvanians, not just those special interests that keep their campaign wallets bulging, they should work with the governor to achieve at least some of the goals he has set out.



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