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July 22, 2014, 7:23 am

Corbett says education policy next on his agenda

  • Written by MARK SCOLFORO
  • Published in News Headlines

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that education policy changes are next on his agenda, but he's not sure if the time is right to dedicate new funding for Pennsylvania's transportation system.

Corbett said at a Capitol news conference that the plan he had announced two days earlier for an impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling is at the top of his priority list, just above education policy changes that he didn't specify.

In June, legislation that would have devoted more taxpayer money for students to switch public schools or to attend private schools stalled amid calls by legislative leaders for more guidance from the administration. Corbett said Wednesday that his approach wasn't limited to school choice and embraced wider education reforms.

Transportation funding was expected to be addressed this fall, after Corbett's hand-picked transportation funding commission said in July that the state should spend about $2.5 billion a year more on roads, bridges and mass transit.

When asked if that issue was being deferred, Corbett replied: "We've got a lot on our plate right now."

The Republican governor hasn't held regular news conferences in Harrisburg over his first nine months in office — a marked change from his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell — though he has taken reporters' questions periodically, including at events outside the Capitol.

That made the Wednesday session with reporters unusual, and it followed an event at which he signed into law a measure to add a military veteran to the three-person state Civil Service Commission. He also signed a farm products marketing bill and a road-naming bill into law.

Corbett didn't specifically endorse a proposal to change the state's "prevailing wage" rules for public construction projects, saying he wants to see a final legislative product before deciding whether to endorse it. Bills are pending in both chambers to change the law, including proposals to let local governments opt out or to have it apply to fewer projects.

The current law, passed in 1961, requires municipalities to pay prevailing wage rates, set by the state, for public sector construction projects worth at least $25,000.

Corbett said his staff was involved in current negotiations with the House and Senate over tougher standards for abortion clinics, a movement in response to the filthy and unsafe conditions reported inside a Philadelphia clinic, but didn't say where the talks were leading.

He responded to critics of his new proposal for a county-based natural gas impact fee, calling it a "very important piece" of his overall plan.

"The impact takes place in the counties in which the drilling is," he said.

Weak tax collections in September that have left the state treasury $215 million behind projections, three months into the fiscal year, have him worried, Corbett said. He said October revenues were critical to the state's financial health.

"We are going to have a very difficult time in the next couple of months unless the economy starts coming back," he said.

Corbett said he received a 200-page report on Tuesday detailing the potential value of selling off the state liquor store system, and he was about to read it. -- (AP)