CLARKS SUMMIT – State Sen. John Blake drew a sharp contrast Thursday between himself and Gov. Tom Corbett on hot-button budget issues, including transportation funding and the privatization of state liquor stores.
Blake, who represents Avoca, Dupont and Duryea, said the governor's transportation funding initiatives are particularly important to his Luzerne County constituents. The county's large road network and its distinct metropolitan areas (Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton) make transportation funding a big issue, he said.
The governor plans to increase the tax on liquid fuels at the distributor level, the Oil Company Franchise Tax, over five years, producing an estimated $1.8 billion, Blake said. The senator, however, maintained that consumers ultimately will suffer.
The fact of the matter is it will get passed on to consumers, said Blake, D-Archbald. I think we've already heard the industry say that.
The governor also added a provision to the budget that would reduce gasoline taxes at the pump by 2 cents over two years. Blake said he opposes this measure because the reduction will hurt municipal governments by reducing their liquid fuels income.
The Corbett administration also has proposed a diversion of Turnpike funds to fund mass transit. Blake estimated that $150 million will be funneled to public transportation programs over five years.
Blake's evaluation of the Corbett budget came as part of his annual Legislative Breakfast. The senator addressed nearly 100 municipal officials from across the 22nd senatorial district at the Ramada Hotel.
On the issue of the proposed privatization of liquor stores to fund education, Blake said he is not a real strong proponent of outright privatization.
The first-term senator expressed misgivings regarding the privatization plan. One-time revenue provides Pennsylvania with a short-term benefit, but the state will be in a lurch once that money is exhausted, he said.
He also worries about the state workers who would lose their jobs under privatization. We've got 5,000 really good workers making reasonable wages and stewarding what otherwise could be determined to be a drug, he said. I think that they do great work.
Blake added that privatization might at once lead to an overabundance of outlets selling beer and liquor in some areas and a dearth of liquor vendors in rural regions. Both scenarios are problematic, he said.
Blake supports modernization of the state liquor store system and an emphasis on catering to consumer tastes and trends.
This breakfast was the third annual meeting between Blake and area leaders, including municipal and school officials.