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Budget, alcohol sales overhaul, other issues await legislative action with days left in session

| Tuesday, June 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett and a top Senate GOP leader say they support legislation that would place elected officials, once they are re-elected, in defined contribution pension plans along with new state employees.

That would mean a 401(k)-type plan, rather than a guaranteed pension, for the officials and rank-and-file employees.

“I strongly support that,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County. “It's what the people want us to do.”

Pileggi and the governor made their statements during a day in which lawmakers failed to make much of a dent in approving a state budget and solving thorny problems, instead appearing to bog down in details, amendments and politics.

Corbett, a Shaler Republican, said recently “count me in. As governor, I pledge to you that if the General Assembly passes pension reform, I will gladly join new state and public school employees as a member of the new defined contribution system.”

The issue surfaced at a leadership meeting between the House, Senate and governor's office on Monday.

The House is moving on a different track, setting up consideration of a pension reform bill by Rep. Warren Kampf, R-Montgomery County, said Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods.

Among its features is a plan for new employees to move to 401(k)s. The bill does not move legislators, statewide officials such as the governor, or the judiciary, once they are re-elected or retained, to defined contribution plans, officials said.

“We're focused on the Kampf proposal,” Turzai said.

With less than a week to go before Sunday's constitutionally mandated budget deadline, lawmakers still hope to negotiate a spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year and tackle plans to privatize wine and liquor sales, increase funding for transportation and expand Medicaid insurance coverage.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee advanced a liquor reform proposal by committee Chairman Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks County, that would allow businesses with liquor licenses to sell wine and liquor to go but lacks a mechanism to close more than 600 state-controlled stores. It also would allow beer distributors to sell six-packs instead of cases only and allow bars to sell four six-packs to go at a time.

The committee voted 6-5 to approve the plan, but more changes are expected before it goes to a vote on the Senate floor, said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Pileggi.

The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration, Arneson said.

“If the Republicans were all on the same page, they could do this tomorrow, but they're not,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political analyst with Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “This is Corbett's agenda in play. He needs a legislative victory on his agenda.”

“We continue to meet with the leadership and the meetings are going well,” said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for Corbett. “We're making progress and we remain optimistic with the process.”

A state House panel delayed consideration of a plan to increase funding for mass transit and road and bridge repairs after Republicans offered a major amendment to the bill.

The Senate did not advance a plan to expand Medicaid eligibility under a program in the Affordable Care Act that Democrats have been pushing Corbett to join for months.

“We seem to be possibly moving forward on this issue,” said Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia. “We're trying to make sure we don't get lost in the politics of the conversation.”

Arneson said there are discussions going on “about what a possible vote related to Medicaid expansion could look like.”

“A timeframe has not been established for that,” Arneson said. “We do expect there will be a vote of some sort.”

Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association intern Josh Fatzick conributed to this report. Kari Andren and Brad Bumsted are staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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