Gov. Tom Corbett‚??s proposed 2013-14 budget calls for increases in funding to public education, more money to help children without health insurance and with intellectual disabilities and for training more state troopers.
He outlined his $28.4 billion budget Tuesday morning -- a 2.4 percent increase over current year spending of $27.65 billion ‚?? during a joint session of the state House and Senate.
Among his major announcements was that the state will not move forward with the Medicaid expansion outlined in Obamacare.
‚??At this time, without serious reforms, it would be financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers, and I cannot recommend a dramatic Medicaid expansion,‚?Ě Corbett said.
But it was his transportation plan that took the bulk of his speech and is a topic that‚??s been two years in the making.
Critics have chided the governor‚??s lack of attention to the state‚??s crumbling infrastructure, opting to instead choose making emergency repairs or placing weight restrictions on bridges.
Pennsylvania‚??s transportation funding shortfall has been an ongoing concern resulting from inflation, reduced tax income due to more fuel-efficient vehicles and decades of under-investing, the governor‚??s office said.
This time, Corbett is going for the fences with a proposal to lift the cap on the state‚??s wholesale gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge repairs.
‚??I am calling on the Legislature to pass a 17 percent reduction in the flat liquid fuels tax paid by consumers at the pump. Second, I am asking the General Assembly to begin a five-year phase-out of an artificial and outdated cap on the tax paid by oil and gas companies on the wholesale price of gasoline,‚?Ě Corbett said. ‚??It is time for the oil and gas industry to pay their fair share of the cost of the infrastructure supporting their industry.‚?Ě
Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said the $1.9 billion transportation plan would close a loophole that capped the tax on the wholesale price of gas at $1.25 a gallon.
The Oil Company Franchise Tax is a tax levied by the state on wholesale oil distributors based on the wholesale price of gasoline. By gradually eliminating the cap of $1.25 that was put in place in the early 1980s, Pennsylvania expects to realize $1.8 billion by the fifth year of the plan.
The wholesale price of gas reached the $1.25 ceiling in 2006, so funding from the tax has not grown since.
In addition, the governor‚??s transportation plan:
‚?Ę Sets aside $250 million to bolster mass transit.
‚?Ę Allocates another $200 million to help local communities with their roads.
‚?Ę Calls for switching from a yearly system of auto registration to every other year, with no increase in the yearly fee.
‚?Ę Does away with registration stickers for license plates.
‚?Ę Increases the duration of driver‚??s licenses from four years to six.
The budget calls for $1.58 billion for the 18 state-owned and state-related universities, such as Bloomsburg, Temple and Penn State. At a press conference last week, university leaders pledged to keep tuition affordable. It‚??s the second consecutive year Corbett is proposing flat funding for the universities.
Some people point out that this follows his first budget that was passed in 2011 with nearly 20 percent cuts to those schools.
‚??Tom Corbett continues to create policies that make it more difficult for students and their families,‚?Ě said Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn. ‚??By flat-funding higher education, Tom Corbett is keeping in place harsh cuts from past budgets and ignoring cost-of-living increases.‚?Ě
A record amount of state funding is proposed for basic education, $5.5 billion, starting with early-childhood programs and going all the way through grade 12.
The governor also took time to tout his liquor privatization program, from which he is proposing using the $1 billion in revenue from selling and auctioning off licenses for block grants for public schools.
‚??I can think of no better use for the proceeds created by getting us out of a business we should never have been in than to put those dollars toward the essential responsibilities of state government. That is why I have proposed that, as we phase the commonwealth out of the liquor business, we put that money toward education,‚?Ě said Corbett. ‚??Selling liquor is not a core function of government. Education is.‚?Ě
While better preparing students for the future, Corbett noted, ‚??We have another opportunity to make things right for the future‚?Ě and that means addressing the mounting state pension costs.
Part of his solution is a 401(a) retirement benefit for future employees that are entitled to enrolling in the State Employees‚?? Retirement System (SERS) hired after Jan. 1, 2015 or beginning July 1, 2015 for those eligible for the Public School Employees‚?? Retirement System (PSERS).
Also, Corbett is proposing changes to the formula effective for SERS employees on Jan. 1, 2015 and for PSERS employees on July 1, 2015. They include:
‚?Ę Reducing the multiplier used to determine future pension benefits by .5 percent to 2 percent for all employees that are currently locked into a multiplier above the 2 percent level, except for those who previously bought up to the higher multiplier. Current employees can still keep their higher multiplier by paying a higher contribution rate.
‚?Ę Capping pensionable compensation to 110 percent of the average salary of the prior four years when determining an employee‚??s final average earnings.
‚?Ę Capping pensionable income at the Social Security wage base, which is $113,700 for 2013.
‚?Ę Determining an employee‚??s final salary by averaging the last five years of compensation.
The budget also includes an $8.5 million proposal to insure more children through the Children‚??s Health Insurance Plan, or CHIP. About $1 million will be used to focus on partnerships and enrollment outreach toward the long-term goal of insuring all eligible children in Pennsylvania. The additional funding will be used for enrollment services and to provide coverage to the additional 9,300 new enrollees expected through expanded outreach.
Now in its 20th year, CHIP is available to all uninsured children and teens in the commonwealth who are not eligible for Medical Assistance.
And there‚??s $5 million included to increase access to health care in rural and underserved areas.
The governor‚??s budget sets aside nearly $20 million to provide home- and community-based services for 1,200 adults with intellectual disabilities.
The proposal reduces a waiting list for services for adults with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome or autism that originate before the age of 18 and provide significant limitations in intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, affecting many everyday social and practical skills.
The state Department of Public Welfare has more than 3,500 individuals in the emergency category who have been identified as needing services within the next six months.
Governor‚??s budget plan mostly met with criticism among area lawmakers. Page 8A
Gov. Tom Corbett will hold a news conference at 12:45 p.m. today at the Osterhout Free Library, 71 S. Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre.
Corbett will talk about the additional $8.5 million proposed for the state Children‚??s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
He‚??ll be joined by CHIP Executive Director Franca D‚??Agostino and Dr. Jeffrey Kile, a pediatrician from Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.