PA week in review: Paycheck protection surprise, more talk about pensions
By PA Independent Staff
State lawmakers continued to slog through budget hearings this week, with pensions and the future of Pennsylvania’s liquor stores both considered. In the southeast corner of the state, the Philadelphia schools chief released his latest plan to improve education.
Here’s a look back at the week:
Surprise survey finds union workers support paycheck protection
This week provided a twist in the paycheck-protection saga, which has union leaders fuming.
Susquehanna Polling and Research polled 401 registered and likely voters from union households across Pennsylvania and found 72 percent of respondents believe unions should collect their own dues; 58 percent supported paycheck protection legislation that would mandate such a procedure.
It was a surprise result – considering hundreds of union workers packed the state Capitol to protest paycheck protection just last month. David Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13, didn’t buy it.
“There’s no groundswell from taxpayers or even my own members that this is so obscene that we have to stop this practice,” Fillman said. “It’s a non-issue. It’s a non-problem that’s trying to look for a solution.”
Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
Leaders of Philadelphia’s charter school movement say they “support the philosophy” of Superintendent William Hite’s latest scheme to improve education.
“But the devil’s in the details,” said Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Hite released his Action Plan v2.0 for the School District of Philadelphia on Monday calling for improved education across the broad spectrum of public schools, but the plan continues the movement to single out charter schools as an area to curb costs.
There are 60,000 students in Philadelphia charter schools now, an increase of 45,000 during the past decade.
Already facing fiscal distress, the SDP’s solution is to keep a hard limit on the number of seats in charter schools.
Privatization debate hangs over liquor store discussion
Consider Pennsylavnia’s liquor stores in limbo.
Though Gov. Tom Corbett isn’t counting on money from privatizing the state-controlled liquor stores to balance his next budget, the issue of privatization hung heavy over a state Senate Appropriations Committee meeting with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
LOOKING BACK: Pennsylvania lawmakers slogged through more budget hearings, talking pensions and liquor store privatization.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, said the debate might not end until November, which carries the assumption that Corbett won’t win a second term. Until then, the issue looks like it will linger.
Corbett used his budget address to say 2014 should be the “last call” for Pennsylvania’s control over liquor stores, but Democratic lawmakers like Ferlo want to move past the governor’s privatization plans.
State Rep. Joe Markosek, the minority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s not sure how hard Corbett will push state-store privatization, but noted there’s less support for it in the Legislature now than a year ago.
“It was tried once and it failed,” Markosek, D-Allegheny, said. “I think members want to move on. They have other things on their plates.”
Pension reform on the clock
Corbett has challenged state lawmakers to get a pension reform package to his desk by the end of the spring. It’s a tall order, considering a massive unfunded liability of $47 million, the differing opinions about what the state should do and the complications of an election year.
There have been plenty of suggestions to reform a pension system that’s been underfunded for a decade. State Rep. William Adolph, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said there’s an appetite to finish the task, as long as any increases in debt are balanced by long-term reform.
“I think members recognize the need to do something. The problem is defining what that something is,” said state Rep. Glen Grell, R-Cumberland.
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