BY BORYS KRAWCZENIUK (STAFF WRITER bkrawczeniuk@ timesshamrock.com)
Published: February 22, 2011
Gov. Tom Corbett has no plans to follow the path of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose push to reduce the strength of public employee unions has sparked more than a week of protests in the Midwest state.
Corbett will instead focus on upcoming negotiations with state employee unions whose contracts expire at the end of the year, said Kevin Harley, the governor’s press secretary. Harley declined to say whether Corbett will seek contract concessions as part of the talks.
“It’s too early to tell but certainly the state is in a difficult position financially,” he said. “Obviously, the governor is focused on presenting a balanced budget without raising taxes.”
Corbett, who must present his first budget March 8, long before the contract talks will conclude, is saying little about how he will eliminate a deficit projected as high as $5 billion and keep his election promise to not raise taxes. Most observers expect sharp program cuts across state government.
Like many states, Pennsylvania is facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, and the negotiations with the unions represent an opportunity to reduce costs. Harley did not directly explain why the governor would not consider measures like the ones Walker is pursuing.
“We’re focusing on Pennsylvania and not Wisconsin,” Harley said.
In Wisconsin, Walker aims to eliminate deficits by cutting union benefits, eliminating unions’ ability to negotiate anything but wages and restricting the amount of raises. He also wants to eliminate rules that require people to belong to a union and pay dues or “fair share” contributions instead of dues.
Matthew J. Brouillette, president and chief executive officer of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, said for Corbett to balance the budget without raising taxes and establish long-term economic growth, he must take on unions, which “have a stranglehold on the taxpayer’s neck.”
“They are the ones who advocate for higher taxes and higher spending and even more government,” Brouillette said. “They are the people directly responsible for the fiscal disaster in Pennsylvania.”
Over the years, various pushes to reduce the power of unions, including the repeal of the 1970 law that allowed them to organize, have failed.
Republican and Democratic Pennsylvania governors alike have played a role in developing the existing state employee union contracts.
While Democratic former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration negotiated the current contracts, it was under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge that the state implemented the large increases in pension benefits for state and public school employees that are so much at the heart of Pennsylvania’s budget woes.