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Pa. Senate majority leader: Pension overhaul before any Wolf tax measures

Photo: Kevin McCorry | WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, Gov. Wolf of Pennsylvania will unveil a state budget proposal that will crystallize his plan for increasing education spending while also dealing with the state’s $2.3 billion structural deficit.

For Wolf to pass his agenda, which will likely include a slate of tax increases and expansions, he must first find a way to compromise with the Republican leaders who control the legislature.

Chief among them is Jake Corman of Centre County, the state Senate’s new, more conservative majority leader. Corman has views on overhauling the state-employee pension system that may foil Wolf’s investment-heavy agenda.

Happy Valley

Nestled in the snow-covered mountains of Centre County, a 15-minute drive from State College, Corman’s office sits in the tiny borough of Bellefonte, at the foot of Mount Nittany.

"It’s a lot of rolling hills in the area, lot of great fishing and outdoor hunting and things of that nature," said Corman, sitting behind his large L-shaped desk.

"Back in the Depression, in the ’30s, this area continued to do well, sort of Depression-proof, because the university was driving the economy," he said. "So it was called Happy Valley."

On the crooked, wooded roads of Corman’s district, the FM reception is spotty, but consistent in the three Cs: country, conservative, and Christian radio.

Voters in the 34th District have been consistent as well, sending a Corman to Harrisburg for nearly 40 years — Jake since 1999 and his father, Doyle, for 21 years before that.

Corman became majority leader in November, narrowly ousting Dominic Pileggi, the Delaware County moderate Republican who had had the job since 2006.

Corman, who tends to champion higher-education causes more than those of K-12 education, says residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania shouldn’t consider the leadership change a loss.

"As a Republican, we’ve made a living over the years picking on Philadelphia. I don’t think there’s any question about that," he said, with a laugh. "But we’re as successful as they are. If Philadelphia is a tremendous, thriving city full of opportunity and cultural advances that communities from around the state and around the country want to come see, that’s good for everybody in the state."

Corman started his college career at Temple University, living on Broad Street in North Philadelphia, but he ended up graduating from Penn State’s Main Campus.

"That’s a long story. As I like to tell people, I had my fun at Temple, and I got my education at Penn State. I’ll just leave it at that," he said. "When you talk about a rural county boy headed to the big city, there’s a whole lot of education to happen there."

Pension showdown

Now that he’s setting the legislative calendar as majority leader, Corman is drawing a line in the sand – saying he won’t support any of Wolf’s proposals for tax increases until lawmakers deal with what he calls "the elephant in the room."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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