PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For a lot of voters on Tuesday it was an afterthought, but come next year Harrisburg will see a major power shift just as the state is facing an enormous financial crisis. That could affect Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs for decades.
With their wins on Tuesday, Republicans decisively took control of both houses of the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion. That means they will hold the reins as the state figures out how to pay billions of dollars in bills that are now coming due.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a similar set of fiscal challenges in this state for at least 50 years,” state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) told Eyewitness News. “It’s going to require sacrifice.”
Tom Corbett has vowed to close an expected $5 billion budget gap without raising taxes. The state is facing ballooning pension costs and also needs an additional $2-4 billion to repair its aging and crumbling road network and transit systems. SEPTA needs millions for capital improvements and commuters know the Philadelphia region’s highways are packed with traffic from before the sun comes up until well after it goes down.
“We have to look at those challenges as opportunities,” Governor-elect Corbett told his crowd of cheering supporters Tuesday evening. “We have the opportunity to bring fiscal discipline to Pennsylvania.”
That will likely mean substantial budget cuts. And one of the few areas the state can cut costs is education.
Corbett said he admires New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who cut education spending and frequently criticizes New Jersey’s teachers’ unions.
“There’s no way that you can close a budget gap without dealing with education spending and spending in the department of public welfare,” Sen. Pileggi said. Much of the rest of the state’s budget is tied up in prisons, Medicare, debt service and transportation.
“We cannot afford to cut education for all children. We just can’t,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia’s teachers’ union. Jordan says he won’t rush to judgment until he hears more specifics about what Corbett will propose. He did, however, say losing hometown Philadelphian Ed Rendell as governor will hurt.
“It’s going to be a huge loss,” he said. “I think Ed Rendell has really been the education governor, he really has.”
“Obviously this is a change, and we’ll all have to adjust to this new environment,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The city has benefitted from Rendell’s clout on a range of issues, from the $1 billion expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to the settling of last year’s SEPTA strike.
Corbett is from Pittsburgh and will likely not be as involved in Philadelphia.
One solution Corbett has proposed to close the state’s financial hole is selling the state liquor stores. Some advocates of that say it could net the state $2 billion up front.
“I think it has merit, you have to look at what the other states are doing,” Sen. Pileggi said.
But that has been tried by several past Republican governors who have now left Harrisburg. The Liquor Control Board is still there.
Reported By: Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3