SUGARLOAF — Luke Bernstein, Gov. Tom Corbett’s deputy chief of staff, said Monday his boss has made tough fiscal decisions in his first two years and the governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget continues that path to fiscal responsibility.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Bernstein told about 60 people at the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Red Carpet Luncheon at Valley Country Club. “We have to get to a brighter, better Pennsylvania.”
With his parents, siblings and friends in the audience — Bernstein grew up in Conyngham — he talked about mountains and valleys and the risks that must be taken to secure a better future for coming generations.
“Problem solving — isn’t that what elected officials are supposed to do?” he asked.
Bernstein said the fiscal health of the United States is not good. He cited the national debt at $17 trillion, a system of crumbling roads, bridges and infrastructure and a federal government that was at the edge of the fiscal cliff and would permit automatic budget cuts to men and women in uniform rather than tackle wasteful spending.
“This type of system limits the possibility of our children and future generations to get to the other side of the mountain,” Bernstein said. “We cannot let that happen.”
Bernstein told the crowd that the national debt grows at $10 million a minute, that too many around the country remain out of work.
“Citizens are losing faith, and the most common words to describe Washington are ‘broken’ or ‘dysfunctional,’ ” he said.
Bernstein said the Corbett administration has:
• Created 117,000 new private-sector jobs — 3,200 in Luzerne County.
• For the first time in more than a decade passed two consecutive balanced budgets on time and without raising taxes.
• Eliminated a $4.2 billion structural deficit.
Bernstein said there is still more work to be done. He said the governor has proposed a bold agenda and budget for the coming fiscal year that will address four key areas: pension reform, privatizing the liquor system, education and transportation.
He said the state’s pension debt obligation is $41 billion and if that came due today, the average state family making $51,000 per year would have to pay $8,000 each in additional taxes to pay it off.
If nothing is done, Bernstein said, the commonwealth’s unfunded liability will grow to $65 billion — resulting in thousands more in taxes or drastic reductions in spending.
“In addition to potential taxes, that total will swallow up money for education, corrections, safety net programs and economic development,” he said.
Bernstein also discussed the governor’s plan to privatize the state’s liquor system.
“In Pennsylvania you can’t buy a case of beer at a bar and you can’t buy a six-pack from a distributor,” he said. “And you can’t buy wine or liquor to go at a bar or a distributor and you can’t buy any of the three at a grocery store.”
He called the current system “ridiculous.”
The governor’s privatization plan is projected to generate about $1 billion in additional revenue for the commonwealth over the next four years and the proceeds from the sale of the state stores, he said.
“Nothing raises a cry more than then changing the way things have been done for decades, but it is a new day that requires our leaders to think prospectively,” he said. “We can’t look at new things in old ways and expect them to become real.
“We can’t keep old systems — the LCB, a broken tax code, an aged infrastructure, or a fear of change — and expect to thrive in a new century,” he said. “The journey takes time.”