Area lawmakers split on budget
By Rick Bruni and Jeremy Sellew
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:51 a.m.
While reaction to Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed budget was largely mixed Tuesday, two local Democratic state House members bashed the package, calling it “a re-election campaign” and “a bait-and-switch deal.”
Rep. Ted Harhai, D- Monessen, and Rep. Pete Daley, D- California, insisted the governor's budget falls short.
“It's like a bait-and-switch deal,” Harhai said Tuesday from Harrisburg. “(Corbett) cut so much two years ago, and now he's throwing a couple crumbs out. He's trying to make it appear he's helping people out after he completely flat-lined them.
“They're happy to get no money this time, just because they're not taking anything away.”
In a statement released after Corbett's presentation, Daley said the governor sounded like he was “beginning his re-election campaign.”
“The governor's proposal to add $90 million to basic education amounts to one-tenth of the money he slashed from public schools two years ago,” Daley wrote. “We experienced local property tax increases almost across the board under his watch, and he seems intent on adding more.”
Daley, who sits on the board of trustees at California University of Pennsylvania, said Corbett is playing games with the 14 State System of Higher Education universities. Cal U is one of them.
“The governor says he wants level funding for our state universities,” Daley said. “However, we had to fight tooth-and-nail last year to preserve the same funding levels, and by keeping funding static, he's knee-capping one of the best job and income incubators known to mankind.”
Corbett unveiled a proposal Tuesday that includes new gasoline revenues at the wholesale level, which the governor said will fund infrastructure projects. The oil company franchise tax hike is designed to raise $5 billion over the next five years for bridges, roads and mass transit.
The Corbett administration claims the budget would not raise taxes.
Harhai called that “a disingenuous statement” and added none of the 10 Democratic colleagues he spoke to Tuesday would back the budget proposal.
“When you go to the pump, you have this tax and that tax, and that goes into the $3.65 (per gallon), and you're still going to raise it to the highest prices in the state's history,” Harhai said. “And (Corbett) says, ‘We didn't raise taxes.' That's really interesting, because they passed it on down, so all the counties, municipalities and school boards had to raise taxes and get pounded for it.”
“If you're taking money out of someone's pocket, it doesn't matter if it's the left or the right, the front or the back. A tax is a tax, and the people feel it.”
Although he's in the same political party as the governor, Rick Saccone, R- Elizabeth, said he wasn't willing to march in lockstep with the governor.
“My first bill (a property tax moratorium) was his one and only veto, so you can't say the governor and I agree on everything,” said Saccone, who was elected to a second term in November.
“We have to spend within our means. That's what the people want. We have to stick to a budget and find out how to divvy out the money we have without raising taxes. My constituents do not want their taxes raised. They're tapped out.”
Saccone said he is leery about the oil company franchise tax being passed down to consumers at the pump, but is willing to hear more.
“I haven't been able to confirm their point that this might not result in an increase … They're explaining it to me, and they're going to explain it to me again. But I'm not seeing that,” Saccone said, before letting out a laugh. “I'm a simple man. Give me some hard numbers, and show me where this thing is going to work. Let them explain it to me simply, so I can re-explain it simply to my constituents.
“From what I know today, I don't think people in our area would be for that.”
Saccone was quick to lambaste legislators on the other side of the aisle who would try to defeat the governor's proposal.
“Maybe when you're on the other side, all you can do is say no. But they just say no for their own ideological reasons,” Saccone said. I try to look at the facts and study as hard as I can to sift through what is rhetoric and what is good policy. If somebody is right, based on facts, they're right. And if they're wrong, they're wrong.”
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, was more cautious in his evaluation of the proposed budget.
“There were some shortfalls in the plan, but that's exactly what it is right now, a plan,” Solobay said. “We have three weeks of appropriations meetings coming up where we're going to hear how people are going to spend their allotted money.
“Maybe after hearing some of the public's input, the governor will change some things.”
Solobay said he is happy to hear that public schools will be receiving more state funding.
“But there is still a surplus in state revenues,” he said. “I'd really like us to be able to tap into that surplus for public education instead of forcing the school boards to increase taxes. State revenues go a lot further than local tax money.”
Solobay added that he would have liked to see the governor's plan call for more funding in human services and Medicaid.
“When people think of Medicaid, they think of some lazy bum sitting at home on the couch and collecting a check,” the senator said. “That's simply not the case. There are a lot of senior citizens out there that lost pensions, for instance, that need help and assistance.
“There are some people with intellectual disabilities and handicapped that are trying to make a living that could use the help as well.”
Solobay said the budget falls short in the area of workforce development.
“We need to try to find a way to help people get the education they need to join the new industries,” Solobay said. “The Marcellus shale industry in our area is booming, and it's hard for the unemployed and the hard-working family man to get the funding necessary to get the additional education and help they need to get involved.”
But Harhai and Daley agree Pennsylvania would be a lot better off if the governor had initially reaped more revenue from the oil and natural gas drilling companies.
“I'm all for transportation and improvement, but if you look back to charging Marcellus shale a 1 percent impact fee, and we'd have charged 5 percent, we could've brought in over $1 billion. And that could've already fixed a lot of roads and bridges,” Harhai said.
“When did Pennsylvania get so well off we could let someone come in for 1 percent? The gas drillers weren't going to leave the state either way.”
Daley said Corbett should have been more concerned with funding roads and bridges before now.
“I wish he would pay more attention to doing what is needed rather than trying to appease the Grover Norquists of the world,” Daley said of the president and founder of Americans for Tax Reform and promoter of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
“The governor is squandering rare, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment by trying to put a shine on gimmicks that come up far short.”
Daley said he laughed when Corbett said it was time to make corporations pay “their fair share.”
“From the Marcellus gas companies and the Delaware loophole to corporate tax breaks that would go a long way to relieving our public pension shortfall, this governor is notorious for favoring corporations while slamming working, middle-class families and retirees with hidden fees and back-door tax increases,” he said.
“This budget proposal is going to take a lot of work if Pennsylvania is to proceed down the road of progress and prosperity.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635. Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.
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