Hutchinson laments failure to pass governor’s major reforms

The three largest issues before the Pennsylvania General Assembly last year were reform of the state pension program, transportation and privatization of the state liquor system.

“We have not been able to get any of those three over the finish line,” State Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-21) said.

Hutchinson, attending a Wednesday evening meeting of the Warren County Council of Governments at the Allegheny National Forest headquarters, provided his thoughts on those issues and where they may move once the legislature is back in session later this month.

Regarding transportation, Hutchinson said that issue is “something that I believe is a priority… that we fund our roads and bridges in (an) adequate, effective and efficient way.”

Hutchinson explained that a roadblock to supporting the proposal on the table for him is a mass transit funding increase of $500 million. Noting that the largest mass transit systems in the Commonwealth are “wasteful(ly) inefficient,” he said, “We pay an inordinate amount of state money to fund mass transit. I believe that it is time for those who ride the systems to pay more. Generally, we have to be mindful…if we have to give more resources to transportation generally, we shouldn’t over do it.”

On the effort to privatize the state liquor sale system, Hutchinson said that the goal was “getting the state out of the liquor business.” He explained that the proposal debated last spring would have taken the money from the sales of the state stores and “use(d) it as one time funding for education. There is a second proposal that would use that for roads and bridges.”

“Getting the state out of the liquor business is something I support,” he reiterated. “The time has come,” citing that Pennsylvania and Utah are the only two states in the nation with state-controlled liquor programs.

“It just seems to make sense not to have the same entity owning the stores as the one that enforces the liquor laws,” he said. “That’s the role of government… to enforce laws, not run liquor stores.”

Hutchinson said that the third big issue pension reform is a “black cloud.” He cited the fact that both the state employees pension and the school retirees pension have a $47 billion liability combined “that you and I, the taxpayers, are on the hook for. What I believe we have to do (is) move that system into the modern era.” He explained that most business today have a defined contribution system. Implementing such a system for those two groups now could “limit that liability going forward. We are still going to have a liability. It is going to crowd out a lot of people (that) are going to want to state government to do (things). At the very least, we have to stop the bleeding.

“That’s a large hill to climb in the coming months,” said Hutchinson.

Glade Township Supervisor Dave Sedon asked Hutchinson about the status of the proposed privatization of the state lottery.

“There is a little misnomer there,” Hutchinson said, explaining that the proposal that has been considered would contract out the management and marketing of the lottery but the state would still own the lottery itself. Hutchinson said that three companies submitted proposals, but two backed out. The third, he explained, promised to incorporate in Pennsylvania and keep the 250 state lottery employees.

He added that the company promised $5 billion in new revenue for the state if awarded the contract and he noted that most projections of the current state system result in the lottery “flat-lined.”

“We have a very quickly growing senior citizen population,” he noted. “If revenue does not keep up” services will likely have to be cut.

“I thought it was not well put out to the public,” Hutchinson said of the proposal, “but the basic concept, guaranteeing growth in revenues, I think it is something we should take a good, hard look at.”