State Budget Signed On Time, But Deadline Moves for Rest of Corbett's Agenda

Jul 1, 2013

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but he can claim zero victories on his other top priorities: liquor privatization, transportation funding or pension overhaul.
Credit Mary Wilson / 90.5 WESA

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed an on-time budget, but without any victories on his other top three legislative priorities.

Liquor privatization, transportation funding and pension overhaul will have to wait until the fall for further legislative action.

A transportation funding plan got stuck in the House. A bid to change how alcohol is sold in Pennsylvania stalled in the Senate. Pension overhaul is a plan neither chamber is ready to advance.

The governor made public entreaties throughout the past month to the Legislature to fulfill his agenda by the end of the month. Still, on Sunday night, Corbett emphasized the progress his priorities made in the Legislature.

"These aren't easy things to do," he said, referring to the "many interest groups with many, many different perspectives" on the proposals topping his agenda. "So I can't be disappointed. I have to thank the people for what they did. And I certainly encourage them, when they get back in the fall, let's get it done."

With lawmakers resigned to a stalemate on liquor and transportation bills (pension overhaul was declared a failed effort days earlier), Corbett signed a nearly $28.4 billion budget with hours to spare before the midnight deadline. The plan represents a more than 2 percent increase in spending over last fiscal year. It's a largely status-quo budget, though it does increase schools funding by more than $120 million. Democrats said the funding boosts aren't enough to make up for past years' cuts.

Lawmakers aren't recessed for the summer yet. They're wrapping up budget-related legislative proposals which serve as the operating manuals for appropriated money. Corbett said the unfinished business doesn't make the budget late.

"There has to be a certification ... that we have enough money on hand to go into the next year," he said. "I've signed those certifications ... so yes, we're on time."

The budget-enabling bills are before the state House. One measure contains language to compel a Medicaid expansion. House Republicans will likely try to remove that section.

The governor won't say whether he would sign a bill including Medicaid expansion.

Some have suggested that heavy lifts like liquor transportation are less likely to get done in the fall or thereafter. Corbett said there's still time to fulfill his agenda within the two-year legislative session ending in 2014.

"If I'm going to equate it to a football game, and the way the legislative session is set up, it's the end of the first quarter," he said. "We've got three more quarters to go."

When it comes to transportation funding, though, the window of opportunity is closing. State lawmakers and Corbett's own cabinet secretaries have said that as the 2014 election inches closer, officials will be less willing to support a plan that includes tax and fee increases.

PennDOT has said without that money, weight loads will be limited on certain bridges across the state, certain mass transit lines would go unfunded, and the Amtrak train service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh would be in jeopardy.

On Sunday night, PennDOT Secretary Barry Schoch wouldn't say how early Pennsylvanians would begin seeing those effects.

"We're not there yet," Schoch said. "We haven't given up, but there are clear implications that, if we don't get there, there's going to be consequences to our transportation system."