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To honor and care for those who have served in uniform, last year we established the Veterans’ Trust Fund. This fund supports Pennsylvania veterans and their families and includes help for veterans in need of shelter and living necessities. The sacrifice of our veterans requires more. In this budget, I propose an additional $1 million to honor our ever-expanding veteran’s population. It is our duty to continue to support those who have served us so bravely.

LIQUORE PRIVATIZATION AND PENSION REFORM

Along with the priorities of this budget, we have unfinished business we must address.

First, we have to reform our antiquated system of state-owned liquor stores. Visitors often wonder about it - unless they’re from Utah.

Our own people don’t think much of the system, either, because it’s inconvenient and they don’t appreciate paying monopoly prices. About the only ones who do like it are the stores in New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland that pick up the extra business.

Pennsylvania loses about $80 million a year that would otherwise be spent here. So here’s a thought, let’s make 2014 ‘last call’ for state-controlled liquor in Pennsylvania.

A crucial reform that would provide the state with even more to invest in the future of our children is pension reform.

Three years ago, the commonwealth’s pension debt was a 42 billion dollar problem.

Today, it is a 50 billion dollar problem that continues to drive local property taxes up. This problem consumes more than 60 cents of every dollar of new revenue.

In fact, this year, we can expect to pay about $1.5 billion in pension costs for state and school district workers. In just a few short years, that number is expected to grow to more than $4 billion.

You heard that right, I said $4 billion - with a “B.”

When I was before this assembly last year, I proposed a comprehensive solution to our pension problem. My plan did not touch the benefits of retirees, nor did it touch the benefits that current employees have already earned. Debate ensued but no solution was agreed upon.

Since that time, some in this room have put forth their own pension reform plans. They see the need to do something; the importance of solving the problem.

I ask you to work with me in the coming months to find a solution. We must fix this. Those who say there is no pension problem are misinformed. They are in denial.

Billions in new debt to our state is the cost of doing nothing. The only question is whether we will do it now, when it’s still a manageable problem, or let others do it later, when it’s an all-out crisis.

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