PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — It’s been a tough three years, Gov. Tom Corbett told legislators, but he’s putting Pennsylvania on the right track.
“We have a lot to show for three years of hard choices and honest effort,” he declared, as he delivered his annual budget address to the General Assembly.
In an election year speech, Corbett insists the state is turning around.
“We are doing things right,” he said. “The signs of revival are clear to see. Pennsylvanians are finding jobs again in Pennsylvania.”
And the theme of his reelection campaign ahead was clear in a line he repeated: “We are building a stronger Pennsylvania.”
The governor cited shale energy growth, transportation funding and government reform as key successes, but his proposed 2014 budget focused on increasing spending for education, job training, health care, seniors and those with disabilities.
To do that, Corbett proposed a $29.4 billion budget with increased spending of 3.3 percent, but no new taxes.
And having been criticized for cutting education, Corbett added $240 million this year for school districts, boosted special education funding by $20 million, added $10 million for early childhood education and created a $25 million college scholarship fund.
“Education is the single largest item in my budget,” he said.
Corbett also added $41 million for senior programs, $5 million for job training and $4 million for health care centers.
And returning to a familiar pitch, the governor urged legislators, once again, to reform the state’s liquor system.
“Let’s make 2014 last call for state-controlled liquor in Pennsylvania,” he said.
But Democrats hope this fourth budget address will be Corbett’s last, and it was hard to divorce politics from the speech.
“This being an election year, I suppose it’s in the realm of possibility that a few disagreements might come into the picture again. It just could happen,” Corbett joked.
He tried a bi-partisan shout-out to two new Democratic mayors in the gallery.
“Mayor Papenfuse, the new mayor of Harrisburg, and Mayor Peduto, the new mayor of Pittsburgh, if they would please rise,” Corbett requested.
And he trumpeted his holding the line on taxes while increasing spending for seniors, health care and education — areas where he’s been criticized in the past.
“The increase I propose would bring direct state support of public education to $10.1 billion, more than 40 percent of state spending,” he said.
“This is a gimmicky, rob Peter to pay Paul, election year budget. That’s what this is,” said PA Rep. Joe Markosek, a Monroeville Democrat who is the Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
It didn’t take Democrats long to accuse Corbett of trying in his last year to make up for earlier wrongs.
“In the last year of his four year term, he sees three years of missed opportunities in the rear view mirror,” declared PA Rep. Frank Dermody, an Oakmont Democrat and the Democratic House Leader.
But the governor insists he’s got Pennsylvania moving again.
“With your support, we have not raised taxes in three years,” Corbett said.
Of course, he’s not counting user fees like the gasoline tax.
But heading into an election year, Corbett hopes voters see it his way.
“Things are coming together,” he said. “All around us are the hopeful signs of a stronger Pennsylvania.”
KDKA Radio’s Mike Pintek gets the Democratic response to Gov. Corbett’s budget address from Montgomery County Commission Chairman Josh Shapiro: