Rapp: No to higher gas taxes

It came without pension. It came without new tax. It came without transportation, liquor or greater Medicaid expansion.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly once again passed an 11th-hour budget on Sunday which was promptly signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

While the budget did include increased funding for education, social services and health services in under-served areas, this year’s budget debate may be more notable for what wasn’t passed than what was.

The approximately $28.4 billion budget, which represents a 2.3 percent increase over last fiscal year but is still $64 million short of what Corbett proposed, includes no tax increases. It also wasn’t accompanied by any of Corbett’s stated legislative priorities of increased transportation funding, pension reform or privatization of state liquor sales.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp and State Sen. Scott Hutchinson both issued statements praising the budget.

“The budget takes into account Pennsylvania’s economy and prudently invests taxpayers’ money in the basic core services and programs that provide the best benefits to our citizens,” Sen. Hutchinson’s release said. “State spending for basic education is at unprecedented levels and additional money is appropriated for public safety programs.”

Rapp also praised the budget but heralded the defeat of a Senate measure to increase transportation funding, largely through fees and taxes.

“While I am definitely pleased that this year’s budget again invests a record of $10 billion in total state funding for K-12 education,” state Rep. Kathy Rapp said in a Monday press release. “I am even more excited that the overall state budget package does not impose an annual $2 billion gas tax-driven transportation plan or any other tax or fee increases on the rural Pennsylvania citizens I represent.

“If our bridges are in such dire need of repairs to prevent them from collapsing into the river, then we need to replace those bridges before spending even one more dime for mass transit or a bike hiking trail. If we need that money for transportation, then it needs to go for roads and bridges. If Pennsylvania is already spending $6.2 billion for transportation, then we need to spend every single dime of that money more wisely.”

Rapp took time to discuss the budget process, and the measures not passed, further on Wednesday morning.

“(The budget) That is our yearly priority” Rapp said. “We do all kinds of things as part of the process and we will continue to work on it throughout the year.”

Rapp said she was in a position to assure the public pension reform wasn’t going away any time soon.

“Pension reform, I can tell you, the house leadership has decided we will be taking it up again,” she noted. “We will be looking at new employees… not current workers and not retirees.”

She pointed out state transportation funding does need to be considered, but reiterated the state does spend substantial funds on maintenance.

“As far as transportation, there needs to be, certainly, some thought on it,” Rapp said. “But it’s not like we’re down to zero on transportation funding. Like many states, we have increasing numbers of people using our roads. I think in our region PennDOT has done an excellent job.”

As for the last of Gov. Corbett’s “big three” legislative priorities, Rapp said the fate of liquor privatization or modernization is unclear at this point.

“Liquor privatization… I don’t know what shape that will take if it takes any final shape,” she noted.

Rapp did say all three issues were still being considered going into summer recess.

“Those issues are still on the table,” she noted. “Through the summer, we’ll be having hearings. This is just the first quarter of this session. We still have a year-and-a-half.”