HARRISBURG — Most of the state legislators who represent Butler County support Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal for 2013-14.
Corbett laid out his spending plan to a joint session of legislators Tuesday morning.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-12th, said there were many aspects he liked about Corbett’s budget but several he did not.
“I like the idea of privatizing state liquor stores, but I don’t like having it tied to funding a new block grant for education because there will be an expectation to fund the program in future budgets and we won’t have the money to fulfill it,” he said.
Metcalfe also said he likes Corbett’s plan to better fund infrastructure projects on roads and bridges, but argued against his means of funding the projects.
“This is an opportunity to privatize liquor stores and to utilize those funds and put them into bridges and roads without increasing taxes,” Metcalfe said.
He added that he fully supports pension reforms, although he was disappointed in Corbett’s lack of information regarding how he would fix the system.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-21st, said Tuesday afternoon that issues such as pension reform and transportation funding could have a “tremendous and lasting impact” on Pennsylvanians.
But, most importantly, the state senator said Corbett’s proposal includes no income tax hikes despite an increase in spending.
“The bottom line is that we will be able to move forward, while holding the line on taxes,” he said. “We are looking at ending the current budget year in the black and continued growth in the future. That’s good news for the commonwealth and our citizens.”
He said the state Senate will begin to review the budget on Feb. 19, when it kicks off three weeks of hearings by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But Hutchinson also warned that the process has only just begun and that legislators have a long road ahead before agreeing on a final spending plan.
“We have a lot to consider over the next few months,” said Hutchinson, who this year moved to the Senate from the House of Representatives after Sen. Mary Jo White retired.
Rep. Dick Stevenson, R-8th, said the governor is focusing harder on the state’s economic competitiveness “by leveling the playing field for business and industry.”
“I appreciate the fact that he is addressing a number of major challenges, from education to transportation and public safety, and adding more state resources to these core responsibilities of state government. These are all positive steps in getting our economy back on track.”
Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-40th, listened to his first budget address as a senator Tuesday after spending several years in the House of Representatives.
The new senator said he’s most pleased that Corbett included nearly $11.5 million in new money for early childhood education.
As a police officer in Allegheny County for several decades, Vulakovich said he’s seen the importance and benefits of early intervention programs for at-risk youth.
The rest of the budget seems to lay out a thoughtful and coherent fiscal plan to lead the state toward greater economic prosperity, he said.
“Our state economy seems to be moving in the right direction,” he said. “We are hopefully looking at a surplus this year and continued growth next year. That is a great sign and one that we can work to improve in the coming months.”
Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-10th, said he’s pleased that Corbett decided not to slash more education funding this year because the cuts already made have had profound impacts.
In some cases, the governor even proposed an increase in funding to several programs. While an increase is better than a cut, Gibbons said the level of funding is still below what it was before Corbett took office.
“I guess the positive news here is that the cuts have stopped,” Gibbons said. “But unfortunately there are still going to be some very difficult times ahead for school districts and local governments.”
Sen. Don White, R-41st, said he is very happy Corbett proposed maintaining funding levels for state-supported universities.
“This commitment eliminates the uncertainty and anxiety thousands of students and their families experienced after the governor announced cuts in previous budgets,” he said.
White said he also supports pension reform and increased funding for school districts.
Sen. Bob Robbins, R-50th, didn’t speculate much on the pros and cons of Corbett’s budget, but cautioned that any numbers or facts released Tuesday should be taken lightly.
“(Corbett’s) transportation funding, public pension reform and privatization of the state store system proposals will be thoroughly reviewed and discussed during the coming weeks and months,” Robbins said. “The governor’s proposals will be the starting point for those deliberations.”
Neither Rep. Brian Ellis, R-11th, nor Rep. R. Lee James, R-64th, could be reached for comment.