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Politics & Government

Union Rallies Against Corbett's Budget, Pension Plans

An estimated 350 state and public sector workers rallied at the state Capitol Monday to call for more funding for education and human services.

Members of the Service Employees International Union also urged Gov. Tom Corbett to drop his calls for pension overhaul, which would include reducing the future benefits of current state and public school employees.

The rally came as House lawmakers prepared to consider a House Republican budget proposal before a final vote this week to send the spending plan to the Senate. This week's House debate over the plan is largely procedural - teeing the bill up for Senate consideration as major negotiations ramp up.

Kathy Jellison, president of the SEIU Local 668, said her members aren't simply asking for the status quo.

"What we are proposing is that there are ways to save taxpayers money. We're not for raising taxes, either. We're all taxpayers too," she said. "But there are ways to do it that would not impact the taxpayers of Pennsylvania."

She suggested things like taxing natural gas drillers and closing the so-called Delaware loophole - a version of which passed the House and is before the Senate. The bill that passed with bipartisan support and the backing of House Republican leaders also includes cuts to business taxes, making it revenue neutral. Left-leaning groups say it wouldn't effectively close the loophole that allows companies to transfer profits out of Pennsylvania to avoid paying state taxes.

Jellison also noted the governor has refused to meet with her union's representatives on issues pertaining to the budget, unlike Gov. Ed Rendell, who she said would meet with her members.

"This governor won't meet with us," she said. "We've asked several times to sit down and have a meeting with him but he stays pretty much behind closed doors."

But a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Welfare said officials with the Corbett administration has met with the SEIU on specific budget issues, such as state health centers.

Aides to the governor suggest the union doesn't actually want to negotiate with Corbett at all. The union has considerable political muscle in the state, typically deployed on behalf of Democrats. At recent events in Harrisburg, the union heard from one declared Democratic candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, and as well as state Treasurer Rob McCord, who is considering a bid.

The SEIU has also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to a nonprofit group running television ads against Corbett, as PA Independent has reported.