Scarnati urges focus to expand beyond liquor plans
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s ranking state senator warned Monday that, unless the pace of work quickens, time is not on Gov. Tom Corbett’s side if he hopes to enact portions of his ambitious agenda along with next year’s budget by the June 30 end of the fiscal year.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, criticized what he called a fixation in Harrisburg on proposals to privatize the state’s liquor and wine system, and pointed out that he and other legislative leaders have not held a substantive meeting to discuss fellow Republican Corbett’s budget proposal.
That $28.4 billion plan is on shaky ground because tax collections are on a path to fall well short of a surplus Corbett had built into the proposal he unveiled in February.
Scarnati also said the parties should spend more time on Corbett’s plans to overhaul public employee pensions and to boost transportation spending — a topic the Senate is keen to move on.
“I don’t think we have enough time not to be multitasking around here,” Scarnati told reporters after he spoke at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg. “We need to be moving budget conversations with pension conversations, with transportation and liquor, and that requires more than just one body. It requires all three entities: the House, the Senate and the governor.”
In February, Corbett proposed a spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year that would boost Pennsylvania’s core state government spending by nearly 3 percent while increasing support for public schools by $90 million, cutting business taxes by more than $330 million and counting on the Legislature to adopt his long-term changes to public pensions.
Getting lawmakers’ approval to sell off the state-controlled system of wine and liquor by June 30 is a top priority of Corbett’s. The House passed a bill last month that Corbett backed, but Scarnati said it has little support in the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Senate plans to advance legislation to boost transportation funding by nearly 50 percent, or about $2.5 billion.
But there has been little public movement among the House, Senate and Corbett toward an agreement on either transportation legislation or Corbett’s proposal to reduce the future pension benefits of more than 370,000 current school and state employees.
Republicans have a 27-23 majority in the Senate, and Democrats are poised to oppose any move to cut public pension benefits or close the state’s approximately 600 wine and liquor stores.