HOLLIDAYSBURG - State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. predicted Tuesday that the state budget "should be passed on time" this year with a new governor in charge.
"We are waiting for Gov.-elect [Tom] Corbett to give us a priority list," said Eichelberger, who is beginning his second term in the Senate representing the 30th District, which includes Blair, Bedford, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.
Corbett likely won't send the Senate and the Pennsylvania House a list of what he would like to see in the 2011-12 state budget until he takes the oath of office Tuesday, but Eichelberger said the process should move smoothly with a Republican governor and Republicans leading both houses.
Sen. Eichelberger talks about budget process, Ed Rendell
He said that state budgets typically are passed by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, except for the eight years Gov. Ed Rendell was in office.
"He was 0-for-8," Eichelberger said, adding Rendell dragged out the debate on the budget in each of his years in office so that a crisis atmosphere enveloped the system.
"Ed Rendell liked to operate in a crisis situation," Eichelberger said.
State Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr. speaks to a reporter Tuesday at his office in Hollidaysburg.
He said other factors often led to late budgets, but, he concluded, "It was 99 percent Ed Rendell."
One of the worst situations occurred in 2009 when the budget didn't receive approval until October, resulting in late paychecks for state workers and many programs being temporarily shut down.
While Eichelberger predicted Tuesday that Corbett would work on budget issues immediately, many of the problems that faced state government in the past few years remain unresolved, particularly the need for money to fill a $4 billion hole in the state budget.
He said spending cuts will have to be made, and new ways of doing things will have to be tried.
Because Corbett has promised not to raise taxes to pay for state government, Eichelberger discussed possible ways to generate funds.
He said, for instance, that a bill to permit public-private partnerships in transportation will get support. State Rep. Rick Geist, R-Altoona, plans to introduce such a bill that would allow government to work with private industry to fund transportation improvements.
Eichelberger believes the Senate Transportation Committee will consider tolling some interstate highways to generate money to maintain them, freeing up funds for work on other projects.
He also said that he would support privatizing the state liquor business providing there are regulations in place and there would be financial benefits to the state.
It is estimated that selling the state's stockpile of beverages could raise $2 billion.
Eichelberger listed his goals for the new year, which will include introducing legislation to bar excessive bonuses for state workers "outside of the established public payroll system." He said Corbett campaigned against the bonus system, which makes the bill a possibility.
Eichelberger said he would like to see a "super-majority" vote, or two-thirds, required for any tax increases. He also favors term limits for representatives and senators.
He favors giving the counties funding options, such as a sales tax or personal income tax, as replacements for the property tax.
"Chances of that getting through are better in the next session ," he said.
He is calling for increased enforcement of ethics in the Senate in view of the many senators who have been under investigation or convicted in the past couple of years.
Eichelberger lashed out at those senators who don't attend sessions and have others cast votes for them. He said some senators leave early, or walk out before votes are taken.
"This has to stop, " he said, stating action should be taken by the Senate Rules Committee.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.