PA spending plan passes without Corbett priorities

HEY, PENNSYLVANIA, happy new fiscal year!

The Republican-controlled Legislature gave Republican Gov. Corbett another (almost) on-time, no-new-taxes budget last night, but failed to give him his "big three" - privatized booze, pension reform and transportation funding.

Still, the governor signed the $28.4 billion spending plan, which is $64 million less than he requested back in February, at a little after 10 p.m.

(Paperwork parts of the budget are still incomplete but are expected to be finished today and tomorrow.)

It's unclear when, or if, any of the "big three" get addressed.

Because they collapsed and unless at least one is resurrected, Corbett's leadership and electability to a second term will remain in question.

I expect Democrats will stress something about the state needing a governor who actually can get things done.

I expect Republicans will blame Congress, President Obama and Ed Rendell - and all Democrats.

But it's the Republican show in Harrisburg, where the GOP controls the governor's office, the House and Senate, that could not get its act together; and Corbett, as its de facto majordomo, draws the majority of boos.

That's boos, not booze.

The governor acknowledged, after signing the budget, "We do have some unfinished business," but insisted, "We are making progress, we are moving forward."

Corbett's high-profile attempt to sell off state stores and feed $1 billion to schools flopped. It was a victim of too many special interests representing too many moving parts, and a vigorous campaign waged against it by Democrats and the union for state-store workers.

As one lobbyist put it, "The liquor thing evaporated."

Transportation funding for roads, bridges and mass transit was too many miles for no-tax House Republicans to travel. There's just no way to fund needed repairs and transit systems without taxing gasoline and raising vehicle fees, and too many lawmakers oppose both.

After a GOP House caucus meeting on the issue, an attendee said, "It was a raucous caucus," and when I asked another source if the meeting was a disaster, the source said, "A disaster would have been an improvement."

Public-pension reform, even changing benefits for only new state employees and new teachers, crashed amid conflicting reports of its long-term costs and, of course, the general spine-free conduct of the nation's largest full-time legislature.

Corbett called pension costs "a tapeworm" eating state resources. There's a $47 billion (and growing) liability. The increase in costs is $500 million this fiscal year.

And just last week, Corbett told legislative leaders that 0-for-3 (on state stores, transportation and pensions) is "unacceptable."

Maybe he forgot what state he's in.

As part of the budget, however, Philadelphia schools were promised assistance.

House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph, R-Delaware County, announced in the House floor just before passage that a state package worth $140 million will help rescue city schools.

"I know the struggles," Adolph said, "and I feel for the struggles."

The money, said Adolph, comes from multiple sources, including the feds, the state budget and extending the city's 8 percent sale tax that was due to expire next June.

Philly Democratic state Rep. Dwight Evans called the fix a "short-term budget bandage."

The Senate passed the spending bill by a 33-17 bipartisan margin just after 4 p.m. yesterday. The House passed the bill by a 111-92 margin at 8:50 p.m. with no Democratic votes.