The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

February 22, 2011

No indication Gov. Corbett will go after union contracts

Pennsylvania is facing a budget deficit of about $4 billion or more.

Wisconsin, which is in the midst of a government standoff and a series of protests by union workers, is facing a budget deficit of about $3.6 billion.

To help combat the deficit, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a bill stripping most collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees. The proposal also allows for major reductions in benefits and increases in health care contributions.

Despite a bigger deficit, there’s no indication Pennsylvania’s Republican Gov. Tom Corbett will go after the state’s union contracts, which expire in June.

Still, Corbett has been mum to most media sources about his plan of attack. Local GOP legislators say they’re waiting to see what the state’s top Republican proposes in his budget due March 8.

“I want to wait and see what the governor rolls out here in the budget. To speculate and inject emotion, it creates uncertainty,” said Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer.

Action against unions is unlikely, said Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, but she too cautioned that it was premature to speculate on what Corbett has planned.

She said much focus will be on privatization of state liquor stores and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission as a means of injecting cash into state coffers.

Keller and Culver said Republicans are also focusing on reducing internal costs covered by taxpayers. Those include making contributions to their own health care and consolidation of internal functions, among other things.

“We can’t ask people to do things that we’re not willing to do ourselves,” she said.

Keller said he has refused to take per diems or mileage and he’s not signed up for the state pension system. He also paid out of his own pocket for furniture at his district office in Mifflinburg.

The bottom line is state lawmakers say they understand the strife facing the entire country, let alone Pennsylvania, and realize there will be tough decisions.

“It’s exciting, but nerve-racking at the same time,” Culver said.

Roxanne Pauline, with the NEPA Area Labor Federation, agreed.

But she and other labor representatives see what’s happening less as an assault on the budget as it is an assault on the middle class.

“We should all be worried,” she said. “Workers rights are under attack. This is union busting, plain and simple.”

She said government should be focused more on ensuring people are employed and contributing to society, instead of being without jobs and going on the public dole.

And labor unions are not the problem, she said.

“We can’t demonize labor,” she said. “It’s the soul of our economy. And this is not about the economy. It seems to be more about politics. With the variety of problems we’re facing in this country, we can’t face any more.”

Meanwhile, local labor unions will be showing solidarity with the workers in Wisconsin. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 86, which represents government workers across the Valley, were to be wearing red today, said member Sharon Sober.

Other labor organizations will be doing activities across the country to show their support of workers in Wisconsin.

But the stalemate continues in the Midwest.

Democratic members of the state Senate have left the state in order to shut down discussion of Gov. Walker’s proposal. More than 68,000 people descended on the state Capitol on Saturday for public protests.

In hopes of reaching a compromise, the unions proposed a deal that would have them paying more for benefits as Walker wants, but still retain their collective bargaining rights.

Another compromise offered by a Republican state senator would remove collective bargaining rights just for two years.

Walker has rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can’t be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process and need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.

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