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AP: Rendell gives Corbett handbook of challenges

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania may be short on tax revenues as a new governor prepares to take office, but a set of detailed transition reports prepared for him by the Rendell administration shows that the state's stockpile of problems remains as robust as ever.

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania may be short on tax revenues as a new governor prepares to take office, but a set of detailed transition reports prepared for him by the Rendell administration shows that the state's stockpile of problems remains as robust as ever.

Thousands of pages of the agency transition reports, a road map of sorts for Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, provide an immense amount of information. It includes the size and deployment of the state workforce, their budgetary needs, the status of pending litigation, the state's obligations under federal laws and a host of "sensitive issues" that will demand immediate attention.

The reports were provided in redacted form to the Associated Press by Gov. Rendell's office in response to a request under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law.

The mixture of raw data, recent accomplishments, legislative issues and narrative descriptions of the challenges ahead have been helpful as a starting point, said Kevin Harley, a spokesman for the Republican governor-elect.

"I think some of them probably paint a rosier picture of a particular agency than maybe what we're finding out," Harley said. "But time will tell. We're certainly appreciative of the fact they took the time to do it - they didn't have to do that."

Taken together, the departmental reports read like an owner's manual, and in places provide a platform for agency officials to lobby the incoming administration for policy changes or additional funding, and place specific problems before Corbett. Selected excerpts from the massive documents give a sense of the job ahead for the governor and his team.

The Pennsylvania State Police, for example, expressed concern that the growing number of vacant trooper positions may jeopardize public safety.

"As the rolls of our members diminish, we have begun to curtail certain projects, but without enough 'boots on the ground' it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the varied missions of the PSP," the department said in a 244-page submission.

The report also discusses a looming increase in workload for the Megan's Law website, which provides information on convicted sex offenders, and describes how overtime is creating massive pension obligations. It said the motor carrier safety assistance program "has been hampered with a host of issues that necessitate long-term corrective action."

The Department of Public Welfare, a massive agency that is likely to be an early focus of Corbett's attention, said the waiting list for low-income child care had been cleared in May but by mid-October it was back up to 12,600. It also said child advocates are concerned that too many calls to the state's child abuse hotline "are categorized as missed."

General Services, under "legal issues," said six eminent domain cases related to the Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion in Philadelphia had produced an estimate of the possible cost to state government. That "potential exposure amount" was blacked out in the copy released to AP, but the department added drily that "this is a very high estimate."

Environmental Protection told Corbett that the state's drinking water and sewage infrastructure needs alone amount to about $37 billion over the coming two decades, and that "the backlog of projects remains substantial."

State parks and state forests currently have a $106 million annual need for infrastructure improvements, according to Conservation and Natural Resources, among them "failing bridges; hazard dam removal, repair and replacement; strategic land acquisition; rehabilitation of recreational facilities; and remediation of acid mine drainage along the west branch of the Susquehanna River."

Agriculture warned that "special funds were not immune to the global recession," followed by additional details that were blacked out. Like many other state agencies, Agriculture spoke of how the economic downtown has been felt in numerous ways.

"Shrinking budgets, decreasing staff complement and a large number of counties turning mandatory services such as restaurant and weighing and measuring devices inspections over to the state will stress the department's ability to meet the requirements of the law," according to its list of issue and challenges.

Belt-tightening has effectively compressed the salary scale within the Corrections Department in recent years because guards covered by collective-bargaining agreements have received pay raises while managers' salaries are under a two-year freeze. The difference in top-of-scale pay between a sergeant - the highest-ranking union job, and lieutenant - the lowest-pay managerial post, is now less than 1 percent.

"It is becoming more difficult to recruit lieutenants from the sergeant ranks, which is the only method that we can hire lieutenants," Corrections wrote.

The prison system also said sick days have spiked under a 2009 policy for sick, parental and family care.

"The SPF program is being used by staff to call off liberally without notice, resulting in excessive overtime which was not anticipated," Corrections said. "In one pay period in September 2010, there were over 14,000 hours of SPF used."

Excerpts from Pa. government transition reports

A small sampling from the state government agency transition reports provided recently by the Rendell administration to Gov.-elect Tom Corbett, based on information supplied by the governor's office:

Administration: "Our network security regime blocks 3.76 million nefarious scan attempts in an average hour, and 171 million 'spam' e-mail messages monthly."

Aging: "Pennsylvania has the third oldest population in the nation: one in five Pennsylvanians is over the age of 60. By 2030 that number is expected to increase to one in four."

Agriculture: (under long-term goals): "Establish additional sources of funding to acquire easements on the 2,000 applicants on the farmland preservation backlog."

Banking: "Since the onset of the financial crisis over three years ago, many states have experienced record bank failures including 44 in Georgia and 41 in Florida. Many other states have seen the number of bank failures steadily climb into double digits. However, Pennsylvania has only recorded one bank failure."

Budget: "The 2011-12 budget will need additional state general fund dollars to replace $650 million in onetime state revenue used to balance the 2010-11 budget and to cover $400 million to $500 million in human service caseload and utilization increases, $275 million in expired federal credits ... and an additional $85 million in state correctional system funding."

Community and Economic Development: "Municipalities are finding it increasingly more difficult to maintain structurally balanced budgets due to stagnant or declining revenues and inability to control expenditures. Impediments include inflexible and inelastic tax sources, lack of uniform assessment practices, ... collective bargaining constraints and legacy cost issues of debt, pension and liabilities."

Conservation and Natural Resources (under managing Marcellus Shale exploration): "No additional leasing of state forest land involving surface disturbance can occur without significantly altering the ecological integrity and wild character of the state forest system and jeopardizing the green certification upon which the state's forest products industry depends."

Corrections: "We anticipate a return in the population uptick beginning in late 2011 when those inmates given a 2- to 5-year sentence will presumptively be sent to the state, whereas today it is at the sentencing judge's discretion as to whether to house those offenders in the county or send them to the state. We expect up to 2,300 more offenders per year beginning in 2012 based on this change."

Education: "Pennsylvania is in the process of creating a statewide teacher and principal evaluation system that can advance teacher and principal effectiveness to: (1) provide the interventions and support systems to address deficiencies; (2) create a basis for building compensation systems to award effectiveness; and (3) establish a fair and objective basis for removing ineffective teachers and principals."

Emergency Management: "One of the frequent questions often is: 'What does PEMA do when there are no emergencies or disasters?' This question emanates from the public perception that PEMA's primary function is that of a response agency. That is not the case. It is just one of the four areas PEMA addresses: prevention, protection, response, and recovery."

Environmental Protection: "DEP has seen a substantial increase in the number and dollar amount of claims for attorneys' fees filed by opposing litigants in enforcement and permitting matters before the Environmental Hearing Board. ... The amount of individual fee requests has ranged from about $20,000 to well over $100,000."

General Services (under priority initiatives/sensitive issues): "Investigate excessive force allegations resulting from the Pittsburgh G-20 Conference. DGS general counsel has coordinated contact with legal representatives of the City of Pittsburgh and legal liability insurance carrier for the G-20 operation."

Health: "Due to budget reductions in state funding, the department's ability to maintain federal match and maintenance of effort requirements has been jeopardized. Further cuts in state funding could result in the loss of federal dollars."

Health Care Reform: "The Governor's Office of Health Care Reform was created by an executive order, which may or may not be continued at the discretion of the governor. This poses several challenges relating to ongoing projects and commitments extending into the next administration."

Insurance: "Pennsylvania is the fifth largest insurance market in the U.S., with $81 billion in annual premiums, and is the 12th largest market in the world."

Labor and Industry: "The 14 work stoppages that took place in 2009 were a record low for Pennsylvania, eclipsing the record low of 21 work stoppages in 2008. A previous record low was also established in 2006."

Military and Veterans Affairs: "Thirty-six Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers have been killed in action and nearly 300 wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, more PNG soldiers have died while serving their nation in deployments than any other state National Guard."

Probation and Parole: "The cost of supervising a parolee for one year is $3,080 versus $31,284 for a year of incarceration in a state correctional institution."

Public Welfare: "Medical Assistance eligibility continues to rise and place an additional burden on the department's budget. Medicaid enrollment tends to be countercyclical, increasing as economic activity slows and state revenues decrease."

Revenue: "Pennsylvania's first tax amnesty in 14 years generated $253.7 million in state back taxes over 54 days, surpassing the $190 million goal set for the program."

Sexual Offenders Assessment Board: The board's "main challenges involve staffing and funding shortages that have resulted in (its) inability to complete all requested Parole Board assessments in a timely manner."

State: "The next administration must determine how to cover the costs to carry the (Statewide Uniform Registry of Electors) so that its physical environment and various software applications are properly maintained, thus ensuring the accuracy and integrity of the electoral process."

State Police: "Police blotter information is considered public information and subject to release. However, the PSP does not maintain a 'police blotter' ... and is not required to create one. The PSP utilizes the public information release report as the only means for the public to obtain information on police activity; with limited success."

Transportation: "Without additional funding, there will need to be open discussions with the citizens of Pennsylvania about what constitutes acceptable conditions on the commonwealth's transportation system."