Critics, some inside the Republican Party, think Tom Corbett is taking too long to fill his cabinet. The current Attorney General is to be sworn in as Governor January 18. Most signs indicate his administration will not be prepared to operate that day, or very soon afterward.
As it is, sufficient time has elapsed to assume appointments Corbett announces from here on are not his first choices.
Corbett’s transition was dealt a serious blow earlier this week when Brian Nutt announced he had changed his mind and would not become chief of staff in the new administration. Nutt said he will stay in the political area, joining Brabender Cox, the advertising firm that guided Corbett’s campaign to victory.
No reason is given, however, for the decision taking so long.
More "no reasons" and white lies are in the offing.
Two days after Nutt declined, Corbett said he was appointing William Ward to the job. Ward, a career prosecutor and former chairman of the state board of probation and parole, according to the new Governor, has "proven management skills" that "make him well suited for . . . Chief of Staff." From when he was appointed Ward has 13 days to learn where the bathrooms are.
From someone who is witnessing his sixth PA gubernatorial transition, here is one theory.
Despite winning, Corbett is still not being taken at his word by some of his insider supporters. Yet he is being taken too seriously by others, including those who have the pedigree to make good cabinet members.
Some insiders still believe “no new taxes” is just campaign poppycock. After all, the first George Bush campaigned on “Read my lips, no new taxes,” a campaign promise that barely lasted beyond his swearing in. (He also did not win a second term!)
People who run all these do-gooder agencies are of a mindset this means there will be less grant money available. They think the only hardship is that they must compete for a slice of a smaller pie.
The first group consists of Republicans who work in Harrisburg now. The second group travels to Harrisburg looking for funds like ordinary folks go to the grocery store.
“Cabinet-eligible” people comprise a third group. They take the new Governor at his word. No funds, shut down programs and furlough workers will be the daily routine. These people are typically high achievers inside the business they will be required to oversee and even promote as a cabinet member. For example, the Secretary of Agriculture is often a farmer. Secretary of Transportation might be an exec from a large construction company; Secretary of Welfare is coming off a job administering a program that benefits the poor, etc.
Do you really believe these people want to occupy a post where they spend most of their time telling their friends they can’t help them? How does the Agriculture Secretary tell his farmer friends he no longer has the money to conduct research at Penn State on the latest crop pest?
Then there is the pension change which must be making it more difficult for Corbett to attract people he wants. Recently, as part of a smoke-and-mirrors omnibus rule to reign in pension costs, the legislature decided vesting cannot occur until ten years of service.
Vesting occurred in five years until recently. This created an opportunity for a cabinet member to earn a pension somewhere inside the maximum eight years he or she will be a state employee. This perk sometimes took the sting out of taking a pay cut to be a public servant.
The appointment delays take even more of a toll.
Deputy Secretaries actually run the day-to-day bureaucracies. They can’t be appointed before the top banana so that he or she will not be viewed as a “figurehead.” That label may already be painted on Chief of Staff Ward.
Budget work can begin as early as October or November in field offices for the next spending plan beginning July 1. After submissions work their way up channels, the Governor usually presents his budget to the legislature in early February. This schedule never holds in a transition year, but late blooming cabinet members are certain to delay the process even more.
Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Bill Adolph, told the Delaware County Times until Corbett fills his cabinet "it's impossible to get in there and see where all the funding is being fully utilized."
On that note the General Assembly did swearing ins and ceremonies one day this week, then adjourned until Jan. 24th.
So much for the fiscal urgency.