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February 22, 2011 | By | Posted in Governor

Corbett Budget Address Will Be Closely Watched By Public Unions

Scheduled For March 8

Political forecasters and Gov. Tom Corbett are downplaying the chance of a political “perfect storm” landing in Harrisburg early next month.

Mr. Corbett unveils his budget plan on March 8.

Contentious proposals to reduce the bargaining power of public employee unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio over the past 10 days have drawn thousands of protestors to state capitals. Those states are faced with multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, want union members to start paying more for some of their benefits and have Republican governors.

Protestors in Wisconsin have shut down the government during the last week. (photo credit: Benji Pierson, WisconsinReporter.com)

Mr. Corbett, a Republican, faces a budget deficit estimated between $4 billion and $5 billion for the coming fiscal year.

“I’m focused on one thing: the budget. We’re going to present a balanced budget. We’re not looking at [unionization],” Mr. Corbett said last week when questioned about the potential for a labor uprising similar to the other states.

During his campaign for governor last year, Mr. Corbett promised to close the budget gap without raising taxes or fees. To do so without rankling the feathers of the state’s unions would be an extraordinary feat.

The heads of the state’s 65,000 member Local 13 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the 191,000 member Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) have been guardedly optimistic when asked about whether the upcoming budget could trigger a Wisconsin-type revolt.

The state’s 82,500 public employees represent $4.4 billion in annual salaries and another $2 billion in benefits. This figure does not include public school teachers and administrators. The salaries and benefits of state employees alone represent nearly 25 percent of the state’s current $26 billion general operating budget.

State taxpayers, through the state’s contribution to K-12 spending, also spend more than $3.5 billion toward teachers’ salaries, with the remainder paid by local and federal taxpayers.

Together, more than one-third of the state’s operating budget goes to the salaries and benefits of state union employees and government school teachers.

The final state spending decisions remain in the hands of the General Assembly. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, including many who have pledged to cut the size of government.

On the other side, organized labor – in both the public and private sectors – is a major source of campaign contributions, armed with a professional lobbying force and tens of thousands of potential protestors.

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Jim Panyard is a reporter for PA Independent. He can be reached at Jim@PAIndependent.com.

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