The first reaction to Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal is that it's only a start and will undergo revision before the 2013-14 budget is approved. But anyone who wants to believe there is nothing to work with is settling for partisan negativity.
The governor's plan addresses the need for pension reform, takes a stab at solving transportation funding problems, includes funding for public education and establishes a school block grant program all without increasing state sales or income taxes.
The plan marries proposed privatization of the liquor store system to a practical use a $1 billion block grant program for public schools from sales of liquor licenses.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito, a Democrat who represents much of our region, criticized funding education through liquor privatization. Is he against the block grant program or against another move to turn an unwieldy government function into a private sector mission, which it should be?
In the past, Corbett has been criticized for not making education funding a big enough priority. This year, he's upped public instruction funding by $90 million, is attempting to establish the block grant progam and is maintaining the higher education funding level. So go figure.
We are especially intrigued by the governor's $5.4 billion initiative for roads, bridges and mass transit. It would be funded by an increase in the wholesale tax gas stations pay on gasoline over five years. That would be partially offset by a reduction in the liquid fuels tax from 12 cents a gallon to 10 cents a gallon over two years.
The plan will have critics, but it strikes us as the most practical attempt we've seen to solve the state's transportation needs without robbing the General Fund to do so.
Of course, there is pension reform in the plan a reduction in future benefits by reducing the multiplier used to calculate them. But employees willing to pay a higher contribution could retain the multiplier. This plan will be criticized, but it seems like a reasonable approach to a long-term problem that no one has had the courage until now to attack.
We wonder if the 3 percent increase in spending for the $28.4 billion plan is too much. We suspect there will be debate and revision over aspects of the plan tied to liquor privatization, pension reform, transportation and the Lottery. But Corbett has given the Legislature a reasonable fiscal start. If the Legislature can't go from there, the culprit will be a predetermined strategy to block the governor from getting anything done the year before his re-election campaign.
Shame on anyone who wants to make that a priority over hard-working Pennsylvanians.