As the key issues on this spring’s legislative agenda become clearer, the Senate’s top Republican says now is not the time to start linking them together. “That’s Washington-style politics and we don’t need that,” Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) told reporters who huddled into his conference room at the state capitol.
Scarnati does not want to see the liquor privatization issue tied to transportation funding. “I think we’ve talked about it enough,” Scarnati said, discussing the urgency of improving the state’s transportation infrastructure. “We have a study, we have a report; we have everybody feeling the necessity to get this done. Delaying it and linking it just really doesn’t do any good for the commonwealth.”
His comments come as the Corbett administration has also been signaling that the pension reform issue will be tied to the state budget, specifically education funding. “The issue of cutting public education is a very sensitive issue… and putting an either-or doesn’t make this budget a lot easier to get done.”
Scarnati believes pensions should be addressed, and that the first step should be passing a bill that enrolls all newly-hired state workers in a 401(k)-style defined contribution retirement plan. “That’s the tourniquet that stops the bleeding, and that’s a move that we need to make,” he says.
But Scarnati does not know if the votes exist to reduce the future pension benefits of current state employees. He’s anxious to see the options that Governor Tom Corbett is expected to lay out along with his budget plan, and believes there’s a willingness to work toward a solution to the public pensions’ $41-billion dollar unfunded liability.