In a first-ever closed meeting with ag media on Tuesday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett expressed his deep appreciation for Commonwealth agriculture, and made numerous references to "fixing things done by previous administrations." The session followed his keynote remarks at Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's state legislative conference.
The governor's "fixing things" reference targeted the state's continual funding of state pension plans with 3 to 4% annual increases – at the expense of education and salary increases for key state workers who haven't received wage increases for several years. "We have many critical workers, such as those in the Animal Health and Diagnostic Services, who we want to keep."
Corbett used the occasion to promote his budget proposals now before the legislature. The previous administration, he explained, used federal dollars to replace state dollars funding education, then pulled out the state dollars for other purposes. Now those federals aren't available.
"We have to put those state dollars back in," he stressed. His budget proposal would fund education at a historic level – more than $28 billion in 2014.
Corbett's attempt to curb pension funding won't make him popular with unions. He'll be up for re-election in 2014. "I'm not doing this with the expectation of going a second term," he concedes. "But we have to get pensions under control."
That resonated well with Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's key issues carried to legislators, seeking a 38% increase for the Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission laboratories and more than a 5% increase in Penn State ag research and Cooperative Extension programs.
Growing private sector crucial
Corbett cited Marcellus Shale developments across northern Pennsylvania and western Pennsylvania as an example of recent and continuing economic growth, noting that when farmers in those areas buy equipment and expand, it's having a ripple effect in local economies.
But he emphasized that the state must become more business-friendly by lowering tax rates. Taxes, he pointed out, keep agricultural processing companies for instance, from coming into Pennsylvania.