Our View | Legislature again playing last-minute games

June 26, 2013 

The state legislature is engaging in its annual race to the finish line on a spending plan and other important topics.

Wouldn’t be nice if work happened in Harrisburg before the frenzied final week of the fiscal year?

The state budget year ends Sunday night.

“The budget will be done by June 30,” state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, boldly predicted in a meeting with the Centre Daily Times before he returned to Harrisburg.

“I suspect it will go right to the deadline,” Hanna said.

The state lawmakers have again left themselves little time to make numerous important decisions, including votes on transportation funding, liquor-sales privatization, Medicare insurance coverage and what can be done about Pennsylvania’s looming pension crisis.

After this weekend, the lawmakers are to be out of session for two months. That’s if a budget is passed.

In what would be bad news for Centre County, Hanna predicted: “There will be no transportation bill, I’m afraid.”

The Senate passed its $2.5 billion transportation plan weeks ago. It included funding for a large project that would make U.S. Route 322 safer at the base of Seven Mountains at Potters Mills.

The House transportation committee is considering a $1.9 billion highway plan that would spread work over 10 years rather than the five years the Senate and Gov. Tom Corbett prefer, and would provide fewer state dollars for public transit.

Hanna, the House Minority Whip, was also skeptical that the legislature would come to an agreement on liquor sales privatization. While Gov. Tom Corbett and many Republicans prefer a full sell-off of the business, Democrats generally would only support “modernization instead of pure privatization,” Hanna said.

Hanna said Democrats favored “more convenience and more options” for consumers, with increased state revenue.

On this issue, now before the Senate, we join state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, and others who simply want to see the state get out of the liquor business.

“If there’s ever been an issue whose day has come, it would probably be this one,” Benninghoff said recently, adding: “To spend any more time on this issue is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

Key budget questions linger over how much the state will provide for education, how much of a tax break to give businesses, and whether there is enough support to expand Medicare coverage.

Regardless, the state’s budget for 2013-14 is expected to pass $28 billion.

The debates rolled on Tuesday, even as school workers rallied at the Capitol for more state dollars to be allocated for poor districts.

The House State Government Committee passed a plan to push future state employees toward managed accounts such as 401(k)s rather than state-supported pensions, which Corbett said “includes provisions to provide both short and long-term pension-related savings.”

But would such a pension bill get through the full house?

“I don’t think that will happen,” Hanna said.

No kidding.

And to think … this isn’t even an election year for these people.

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