LEWISTOWN - When Gov. Tom Corbett unveiled his budget proposal in February, it raised the ire of many in the education community and those who work to provide social services.
Corbett's proposed cuts to higher education were completely restored under the Senate's bill, which easily passed the largely Republican controlled Senate, with several Democrats voting in favor of the plan as well.
The bill is now in the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Chairman Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, doesn't foresee any significant changes being made to the Senate's $27.6 billion proposed budget.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, talks about current issues in the state during a visit Thursday to The Sentinel’s office in Lewistown.
During an interview Thursday, Corman said compromise is not a dirty word in Harrisburg, unlike Washington D.C., and part of the reason for that is Pennsylvania's Legislature is required by the
Commonwealth's constitution to pass a balanced budget.
Corman said when Corbett unveiled his budget proposal, the revenue projections were a little bleak, but that has since changed a bit, allowing for at least a partial restoration of funding for basic education and social services.
Corman said funding for the state affiliated universities is important because the return on the investment is worthwhile.
Corman also talked about money to fund infrastructure repairs for bridges and roads, which comes in part from motor license funds, such as fees associated with a driver's license or automobile registration.
Unfortunately, Corman said, two commissions created by Corbett and former Gov. Ed Rendell found the same inevitable conclusion - the costs to maintain the system is growing faster than current revenue devoted to pay for it.
Corman said he thinks investing in infrastructure is a wise thing to do because nobody wants to go back to the days of two-lane roads in the Lewistown or Dauphin narrows. The problem is finding the money to pay for it, especially since nobody wants to pay higher taxes.
Corman said U.S. 322 between Potters Mills and Boalsburg is of particular concern to him because the road is a major artery through central Pennsylvania and has become exceedingly dangerous.
One suggestion Corman has made on several occasions is creating a "Mineral Fund" generated by the royalties on gas drilling to buy a bond, which would then grow and be used at a later time to put toward infrastructure repairs.
Corman said he would like to see natural gas put to further use, possibly in transportation because there is an abundance of natural gas wells in the state.
Corman sees the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania as a huge economic engine which could further grow, given further investment from companies that branch out from that industry.
There has been some job growth in Pennsylvania in recent years, but Corman thinks companies are waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Affordable Care Act, before they decide to hire more workers.
"Need to find ways to incentivize people to hire," Corman said.
One of the largest portions of the budget is corrections, and Corman has acknowledged on several occasions that the current way of funding corrections, more bars and more walls, is not sustainable.
Corman said prisons should be for violent offenders and people who have committed serious crimes.
Corman suggests the Legislature tackle sentencing reform to curtail the exponential growth in the prison population.
Corman also discussed the looming pension crisis in Pennsylvania, which could see a rise in the two state related pension funds from $1.1 billion to $4.3 billion by 2017.
Corman said he was glad to see Corbett come out in favor of pension reform, which could be alleviated by changing the system from its current model.
Corman said when the economy tanked during the recession, the pension system lost a total of $30 billion when the market took a nose dive.