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Valley lawmakers take issue with budget plan

Mary Ann Thomas
| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:17 a.m.
State House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont.
State House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont.
NAACP McKeesport Unit president Ocie Paige presents the President's Award to state Sen. James R. Brewster, left.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
NAACP McKeesport Unit president Ocie Paige presents the President's Award to state Sen. James R. Brewster, left. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
State Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville
State Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville

Predictably, local Republican legislators liked most of Gov. Tom Corbett's budget, especially the focus on pension reform and continued persistence to sell off the state liquor system.

Also not a surprise, Democrats were not happy with many of the proposals, including cutting business taxes and some of the ways to pay for education.

Among other things, state Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, criticized Corbett's call to kill off the capital stock and franchise tax and reduce the corporate net income tax.

“We would feel better about these proposals if he was also talking about closing tax loopholes that allow the biggest corporations to get away with paying almost no tax in Pennsylvania,” Dermody said in a statement.

“And what about the jobs?” Dermody asked. “Wasn't that supposed to be the point of all of these reductions in corporate taxes?

“Where are the jobs? For the first time in years, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate went above the national rate, and it has stayed at or above the national rate for five months now.”

While state Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, said that he is pleased with some of the ideas in the budget, he took issue with education funding.

“I am disappointed that he is proposing that some of the additional funding be contingent upon legislative approval of his liquor privatization and pension-funding schemes,” Brewster said in a statement.

“The education of our children is too important to be used as a bargaining chip.”

State Rep. Joe Petrarca, D-Washington Township, also took issue with Corbett's funding of education.

“I'm upset that the governor's budget does little to restore the $860 million or so of cuts that he slashed from education in his first year,” Petrarca told the Valley News Dispatch. “The money he's proposing for basic education doesn't even cover inflation over the last several years, let alone the cuts.”

Petrarca also criticized the idea of using money from the privatization of the state's liquor system to fund education.

He questioned whether the short-term influx of cash would be worth the loss of liquor system jobs and long-term loss of revenue generated by the system.

Other factors Petrarca didn't like was the lack of expansion of Medicaid, possible privatization of the state lottery system and changes to gasoline taxes, which he believes will lead to a 20-cent-per-gallon increase for consumers.

“There were a lot of holes in this budget,” he said.

Republicans weigh in

Local Republicans in the Legislature liked the governor's budget but were concerned with some proposals, including what might amount to higher costs for consumers at the pump.

State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, said in a release: “This year's budget proposal is a significant improvement from what we've seen over the past 10 years, which wavered from significant spending increases to — most recently — unavoidable severe cuts in state support for many programs and services.

“The governor is proposing a modest increase in overall state spending without a tax increase. He's proposing more money for public education, which is welcome.”

While Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, was happy with the governor's budget of “living within our means,” he is opposed to what he calls as “huge tax increase” on motorists.

The oil company franchise tax is imposed on distributors of liquid fuels and fees on all taxable fuels on a cents-per-gallon basis, according to the state Department of Revenue.

“When they lift the cap on the oil franchise tax, they are expecting to raise billions of dollars for infrastructure,” Metcalfe said. “Ultimately, it will be passed down to the consumer at the pump.”

Metcalfe said that the state should raise money through other means such as cutting the state Welfare Department.

Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, took issue with the governor's proposed 3 percent increase in the state's welfare budget.

“If the Department of Welfare budget increases 3 percent each year, is the income of the residents of Pennsylvania going to increase 3 percent a year?” he asked.

Evankovich said he wants to see the state's expenditures in line with income growth.

“We need sustainable budgets moving forward,” he said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Staff writer Liz Hayes contributed to this report.

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