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Budget, Transportation Early Concerns of New Legislative Session

The 2013-14 legislative session, with 23 new lawmakers, began on January 1 under a constitutional requirement that swearing in occur the first Tuesday in January. The new members will have little time to adjust to the rules and routine as they will have to embrace transportation funding, liquor privatization, another tight budget, and we at PMA hope they will tackle key business issues left over from last year.

“Last session lawmakers made a tremendous start with changes in the unemployment compensation system, and steps to curb legal abuse,” said PMA Executive Director David N. Taylor. “We’re pushing right from the beginning for more reforms in unemployment compensation, needed changes in workers’ compensation, venue and other legal reforms, charter school reforms and other measures that will help make Pennsylvania competitive again.”

Governor Tom Corbett has said he will announce a transportation funding plan during his budget address – not officially scheduled yet but historically held the first Tuesday in February.

In August, 2011, the Governor’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission recommended among other initiatives, fee increases and an increase in a fuel tax, to raise $2 billion in additional revenues it says Pennsylvania needs to adequately maintain, roads, bridges and mass transit.

On the budget, lukewarm collection numbers will be chilled by costs out of the Governor’s control. The Department of Revenue recently reported that collection receipts for the month of December were again higher than anticipated. The state collected $2.4 billion in General Fund revenues in December, which was $112.4 million, or 4.8 percent, more than anticipated. Fiscal year-to-date General Fund collections total $12.2 billion, which is $171.5 million, or 1.4 percent, above estimate.

Good news to be sure, but budget officials predict big increases in the costs for public pensions and Medicaid. At a mid-year briefing, Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said that covering public pension costs will cost an extra $500 million next year while Medicaid costs will grow $100 million.

“One of our absolute top priorities is that we continue to hold the line on spending,” Taylor said.

Along with his announcement that he will unveil a transportation funding plan during his budget address, the governor said late last year that the privatization of the state liquor system will be one of his top priorities in the new session. The statement breathed new life into a proposal that House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny tried without success to bring to the floor for a vote last session.

Finally, Turzai said on swearing-in day that one of they key priorities will be reducing the state’s debt service, which this year will equal approximately $1 billion of a budget that will likely fall in the $27 billion range.

“Legislators must be about getting to ‘yes’ to governing; ‘yes’ to finding solutions; and ‘no’ to harmful special interests,” Turzai said in a statement. “It is time to get over the parochialness of bureaucracy protection, and deal with consumer protection; it is time for the state to get out of the liquor business.”

As in the last session, the Republican governor will have support in the House and Senate where Republicans maintained their majorities after the November elections. They lead in the House 111-91, but in the Senate their 30-20 margin fell to 27-23.