Corbett Administration Projects Half-Billion Dollar Budget Shortfall

The economic forecast took a turn for the worse after the state budget was passed, and it’s showing up in tax collections that are already running $345-million dollars below expectation.  Budget Secretary Charles Zogby estimated a shortfall of $500-million dollars by the end of the fiscal year.  “I tend to think that this is an optimistic scenario,” Zogby said at the mid-year budget briefing.  “I think we’re expecting and planning for a much bigger shortfall.” 

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby addressed the media on Tuesday.

Budget Secretary Charles Zogby addressed the media on Tuesday.

Zogby’s office is currently working on options for a budgetary freeze, which Governor Tom Corbett could act upon by the end of the month.  “That will help alleviate – to an extent – the FY2012-2013 challenges that we’re facing.” 

Taking into account the revised revenue outlook and projected growth in mandatory spending, Zogby estimated that the administration will have a $750-million dollar budget hole to fill in order to balance next year’s budget.   “Right now I’m looking at the expenditure side, no tax increases,” Zogby added. 

State Rep. Joe Markosek

State Rep. Joe Markosek

While Governor Tom Corbett will deliver his budget address in early February, Democrats say it’s premature to be projecting such dire budget circumstances next year.  “The governor is using scare tactics to make his case for cutting another three-quarters of a billion dollars in needlessly painful cuts next year,” House Democratic Appropriations Chair Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) said at a capitol news conference.  Markosek contends that year-to-date revenue collections are actually up when compared to the same five-month period last year.

Police Officer Shot To Death in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Suspect Later Killed

A police officer is dead and another wounded in a shooting overnight in a small southwestern Pennsylvania town.  The suspect was later killed when police tried to arrest him.    

The man suspected of gunning down East Washington Borough Police officer John David Dryer Sunday night was killed after police surrounded his house this morning. State police say 58-year-old Eli Franklin Myers came out of his house and engaged the SERT team with a weapon, and was fatally shot.

The chain of events began with a traffic stop Sunday night around 11:30.  Officer Dryer initiated a traffic stop and Officer Robert Caldwell arrived on the scene as a backup.  The vehicle was eventually stopped on Interstate 70. State Police say the driver of the vehicle got out and engaged the officers in a gun fight.  Officer Dryer suffered a fatal wound. Officer Caldwell’s wound was not life-threatening.

A moment of silence was held on the floor of the state house on Monday afternoon at the request of Representative Brandon Neuman (D-Washington). Neuman said his prayers and thoughts go out to the families of these officers.

Governor Corbett ordered all Pennsylvania flags in the Capitol Complex and at commonwealth facilities in Washington County to fly at half-staff in Officer Dryer’s memory.  All Pennsylvanians are invited to join in this tribute. Condolences can also be emailed to the East Washington Borough Police Department.

Penn State Officials Held for Trial In Child Sex Abuse Case

Two Penn State officials charged with lying to a grand jury in the university’s child sex-abuse scandal have been held for trial after a preliminary hearing in Harrisburg Friday.

Lawyers for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz say their clients will be exonerated at trial.

Schultz’s attorney questioned the actions of assistant coach Mike McQueary in not reporting to police what he saw in a locker room shower in 2002. McQueary had earlier told the judge he saw former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky in a shower naked, hugging a young boy from behind. He said he believed what he saw was intercourse between Sandusky and the boy.

Curley’s attorney called the charge of perjury an unusual type of charge in Pennsylvania.

Curley has stepped aside from his post as athletic director to fight the allegations. Schultz has returned to retirement.

Lawmakers Near Final Approval of Congressional Maps

Pennsylvania will lose a Congressional seat in 2012, as the Keystone State’s population growth didn’t keep up with other states over the past ten years.  The General Assembly must now act quickly to approve the new congressional maps.  “If a congressional redistricting plan is not enacted by the end of this calendar year, it will cause chaos in the 2012 election cycle,” said Senate GOP Leader Dominic Pileggi.  During Wednesday night’s Senate debate, Pileggi noted that the process of circulating nominating petitions begins on January 24th

The Republican-drawn maps were unveiled earlier in the week, cleared the Senate on Wednesday night, and advanced out of the House State Government Committee on Thursday afternoon.  Up next is consideration by the full House. 

Democrats are lining up to criticize SB 1249 as blatant gerrymandering.   “I ask anybody who looks at these maps, are these districts contiguous or are they torturous?” said Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila.), the Minority Chair of the House State Government Committee. 

Appearing on Radio PA’s monthly Ask the Governor program, Governor Tom Corbett said this is the situation every ten year, no matter which party is in the majority.  “It’s incumbent upon the congressmen who represent those districts… to make sure that they pay attention to their constituents no matter where they are.” 

Corbett says the process is particularly difficult when one congressional district must be drawn out of existence.    In this case, the proposal would combine the districts of Democratic Congressmen Jason Altmire and Mark Critz. 

“We knew that the Republicans would use their control of the process to draw a map that that benefitted Republicans, but we did not expect them to abuse their power to this degree,” said Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn.