From Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- Many people are wondering how Republican Tom Corbett can erase a state budget deficit of up to $5 billion next year without raising taxes, as he claims he can do.
He told the Pennsylvania Press Club today that one thing he’ll do is pursue Auditor General Jack Wagner’s contention that there is a 14 percent "eligibility" error rate for lower-income people who get state-funded Medicaid payments. Shaving 14 percent of the recipients off the rolls could save $1 billion, he maintained.
The Rendell administration has disputed the Wagner claim, saying the error rate is no more than 4 percent. But even correcting that would save about $300 million, Mr. Corbett said.
Another Corbett idea is erase the deficit is to "sell state assets," such as selling off the longtime system of state-run liquor stores. One advocate, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, thinks anywhere from $2 billion to $6 billion could be generated by selling the 600 stores into private hands. But other Republican governors, such as Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh, have tried and failed to sell off the state store system, in large part due to the political power of the store clerks’ union.
Other Corbett ideas including saving money by reducing the size of the 16,000-vehicle state fleet or reducing the General Assembly’s $200 million "leadership account," sometimes called a "slush fund" for leaders to use to keep the rank-and-file in line, but that will prove difficult because legislative leaders like it.
One thing Mr. Corbett said he won’t do is reduce programs that help senior citizens, such as helping people with Alzheimer’s illness. Mr. Corbett got upset when talking about a TV political ad for his opponent, Democrat Dan Onorato, that implies that Mr. Corbett "could" or "may" cut programs for seniors, with no attribution of where such an idea came from.
"Two words come to mind for those ads -- despicable and unforgiveable," he said, adding that he soon will be running his own TV ad blasting the Onorato ads.
"It’s despicable for a candidate to threaten seniors while presenting no facts and no evidence," Mr. Corbett said. "Our policies on aging and on health care disprove such claims."
He said much funding for seniors’ programs comes from the state lottery and "we will not let that money be raided for other purposes."
Onorato campaign spokesman Brian Herman said Mr. Corbett has several times talked about "across the board'' budget cuts and has said that "everybody is going to have to feel that cut." Mr. Herman said, "We stand behind the ad and we believe it speaks for itself.''