Official: Transportation, pension, liquor privatization still governor’s priorities

While state Secretary of Revenue Dan Meuser praised Gov. Tom Corbett administration’s fiscal accomplishments at a Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Genetti Thursday, the “big three” priorities – transportation, pension and liquor privatization – remain big problems.

Meuser said the administration has accomplished much, such as balancing a $4 billion deficit, but the governor is “far from satisfied” with what he set out to do. However, he can’t make the changes alone, he said.

“Those big three (priorities) require the support of the General Assembly,” Meuser said. “It can’t change overnight.”

While the state Senate’s transportation plan would invest $2.5 billion, Corbett’s transportation plan would invest $1.8 billion, both over the course of five years.

Meuser said Corbett prefers the lower number, but “if a good, solid infrastructure plan comes out,” the governor may support it.

Corbett’s transportation reform includes a reduction of the flat liquid fuels tax from 12 to 10 cents over two years to ease the burden on taxpayers, and would uncap the average wholesale price used to calculate the oil company franchise tax over five years to let the market dictate the return, Meuser said.

It would increase the driver’s license fee from $29.50 for four years to $40 to be renewed every six years. It also would increase the registration fee for a passenger vehicle from $36 annually to $72 every two years.

Corbett’s pension reform didn’t pass last session, and spokesman Jay Pagni said this session, there will be negotiations and discussions that will be fair to the taxpayer.

In Corbett’s proposal, among other measures, only new state and public school employees would be enrolled in a defined contribution plan where the employer and employee contribution rate is set, and only the investment income fluctuates, Pagni said.

“In the current system, everything is predicated on a 7.5-percent return on investment; if returns are too low, the taxpayer has to make up that money,” Pagni said. ” … We want to have a plan fair to taxpayer and employees.”

Finally, by divesting from the government-controlled liquor system, Meuser said that money will result in one-time funding of $1 billion for schools.

Corbett doesn’t value one of these priorities above the other, Pagni said.

“Each priority is equally important, each affects everyday Pennsylvanians one way or another. Liquor privatization is about convenience. Transportation is about making Pennsylvanians’ lives better, with safety on roads, bridges and mass transit systems that support people to and from work. … Pension reform is just as equally important because it’s money out of (taxpayers’) pockets to fund pensions,” Pagni said.

As far as education, Meuser noted the administration increased basic education funding and is now the highest level of basic education funding in state history. Department of Revenue Press Secretary Elizabeth Brassell said the missing piece is federal funding for education. She said the reason it seems basic education funding was cut was at the end of the Gov. Ed Rendell administration, there was a one-time influx of federal stimulus dollars to education, which the schools apparently built into recurring budgets, so it looked like a loss.

Corbett also created the Healthy Pennsylvania health plan, which works to ensure all children have health insurance and increased access to health care for others.