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Poll results could vex Corbett

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers expect the next two years to be dominated by efforts to find new sources of transportation funding and to overhaul public pension plans.

Gov. Tom Corbett, halfway through his first term, also faces major decisions on what role the state will play in the expansion of health care insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

This month's election results created a less friendly political landscape for Corbett as he prepares for his 2014 campaign, with Democrats newly elected to attorney general and auditor general and a narrower Senate GOP majority.

David Patti, a Corbett supporter who is president and CEO of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Business Council, said Corbett will need to assemble a broad coalition to back his efforts to cut pension costs, and he will need to realize that lawmakers have reached their political limit in spending cuts.

“He has to come up with a creative budget that does the best he can to hold the line, but recognizing that the appetite for cutting is just about gone,” Patti said. “Complicating that is the dire issue with public pensions.”

Charles Gerow, a Republican strategist and lobbyist who is a supporter of Corbett's, said the governor should be forceful in trying to revive a bid to privatize the state-controlled liquor store system that failed in the House. The public supports the concept, Gerow said, and it could yield money for public schools and transportation systems.

Corbett has yet to produce plans to privatize state liquor stores or deal with the billions of dollars in backlogged repairs to the state's roads and bridges. Tired of waiting, senators hope to introduce their own transportation funding plan in January, said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery. When new senators are sworn in, the Republicans' Senate majority will shrink to 27-23 from 30-20.

In an online missive last week, Corbett said he wants to help Pennsylvanians get jobs and to deliver efficient, effective government.

His message on education is evolving from the one he began with last year, when he was heavily critical of school boards and teachers unions and carried out more than $1 billion in budget-balancing cuts in aid to public schools and state-supported universities.

“We will make historic investments in education,” the governor said.

The state's fiscal challenges are arguably as daunting as in 2011, when Corbett took office on a pledge not to raise taxes. Although tax collections are improving, demand continues to rise for public welfare programs, and unemployment is higher.

The newly elected attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, has pledged to bulk up the office's public corruption unit and investigate the Jerry Sandusky prosecution that began when Corbett was attorney general.

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