Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
State lawmakers kicked off three weeks of budget hearings Monday with the governor's budget secretary shooting down a few criticisms of the $29.4 billion spending plan proposed last week.
Democrats staunchly oppose the tandem effort to reduce state payments into public pension funds, arguing the state should make good on its rising scheduled payments into the retirement systems, and anything less would be "kicking the can down the road." But Budget Secretary Charles Zogby fired back at their indignation as nothing more than "election- year politics."
"Pensions were underfunded- you know, teacher pensions - by $4 billion, and the tab was left to increase right when Gov. Corbett took office," Zogby said before the Senate Appropriations Committee. "I didn't hear the same hue and cry over that."
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have made mention of the budget proposal's reliance on revenue assumptions. The first tough question to that effect came not from a Democrat, but from Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery), who is also up for re-election this year.
"What has me concerned about this budget is we're basing a lot of the revenue in this budget on, again, predictions...We're kicking the pension down the road, we're looking at the possibility of keno or (personal income tax) picking up, sales tax picking up," Rafferty said. "Convince me as to why I should say 'yeah.'"
Zogby acknowledged that the governor's budget rests, in part, on changing scheduled state payments into the pensions systems. "But that's no different to me than any other budget that a governor presents," he said, "where enactment depends not only on the general appropriations bill being enacted, but things like a school code, a welfare code bill, other pieces of legislation having to go along with it."
Rafferty pushed further. "What do we do," he began, "in a situation where we predicated a budget based on all these revenues and they aren't actualized - or some other hit comes? I mean, do we just start cutting?"
Zogby said any revenue and savings assumptions can be revised in the months to come.
The exchange, between two Republicans, comes amid largely Democratic criticism of Corbett's budget proposal as relying too heavily not only on predictions, but on one-time revenue sources.
But the committee chairman, Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), came to the administration's defense.
"Budget processes are somewhat similar times, and each have their own unique qualities to them," he said, "but certainly, using one-time funds isn't unique."
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