Only four months into the job, Tom Corbett shines in performing for the wealthy Republicans who financed last year’s journey to the PA Governor’s mansion.
His fast start already overshadows his Republican predecessors. Tom Ridge was pro choice and cozy with labor unions. Dick Thornburgh spent his time being pompous, although he did let underlings vent against Democrats. Ray Shafer and Bill Scranton Sr. each served one term in the 60s and were moderates compared to today’s right wing zealots.
Consider what Corbett has done to date.
No sooner did he drop his right arm after being sworn in on another cold, drafty day in January that he announced his revenue department was “re-interpreting” the tax code to allow businesses to pay $200 million less in taxes per year. Corbett said the $4 billion shortfall could be dealt with by little people, not his business friends.
While the media and Democrats predicted Corbett would be forced to abandon his anti-tax pledge, he and his superrich contributors (many now known as acting cabinet members) began to identify where to cut expenses. Some were downright insidious.
A billion dollar cut in public education might have been designed by Karl Rove. The reduction is proposed across the board. This means wealthy school districts may not miss a $100 per student whack. A $600 or $700 shortfall per kid in poorer districts will be devastating. Even if permitted by law, these districts are unable to tack on another ten or 15 mills to an already sky-high real estate assessment.
Poorer school districts tend to lean Democrat and local board members are cozier with the teachers’ union.
Corbett has created his own pressure to not fail. He can destroy public education in Pennsylvania and maybe take down the PSEA, the teachers’ union that is one of the most powerful units of organized labor. These are prizes coveted by a large segment of his contributors.
Both of Corbett’s other major proposed reductions in funds will be more likely to test his political skills.
In whacking half of the expected appropriations for higher education, Corbett is trying to send a message that this area of government funding is out of control. Despite large increases in appropriations from Harrisburg in recent years, state-supported universities have also jacked tuition.
Corbett has two hurdles to overcome. First is that the district of Republican State Sen. Jake Corman, chair of the powerful appropriations committee, includes Penn State. Corman, like fellow GOP senator Jeff Piccola, would like to take on US Sen. Bob Casey next year, but could fight for his current seat if he doesn’t bring the bacon back to Penn State.
Corbett must also deal with pressure from all legislators to hold the line on reductions for higher education. After all, they need those tickets to home Penn State and Pitt football games.
For these reasons, Corbett’s proposed cuts in higher education have a smaller chance of success.
The last of Corbett’s proposed trio of big cuts in funds is an attack on the welfare system. “Eliminating welfare fraud and abuse” always makes a good speech highlight, but is seldom done. Corbett believes he can be successful where others have failed.
The problem is that a productive attack on fraud and abuse in welfare may shift hundreds of millions of dollars of health care costs to the very employers who wrote large campaign checks to Corbett. The Federal General Accounting Office published a study in 2005 that claims most Medicaid waste results from claims that should have been paid by the father’s employer’s insurance.
Single mothers tend to use the green card when taking kids to the doctor. Neither the harried mother nor the health care provider can wait for the system to find the father who may have access to his company’s family health benefits. Such reform would also increase uncompensated care costs to hospitals.
Currently, Corbett is ignorant of these effects to his donors at US Steel and UPMC.
There are other signs that Corbett is creating the best administration money can buy.
His DEP secretary has elevated green lighting citations for oil and gas drilling environmental violations to his desk. His new secretary of state was on the wrong side of a voter suppression issue several years ago. His economic development chieftain has been given power to approve environmental permits.
Corbett took three months to find a stand-in for secretary of labor and industry. His search for a resume with even minor reference to labor-management relations who could also be relentless against organized labor was hard to fill.
If Corbett can maintain control over legislators of his own party (a big “if”), he will devastate the Democratic leadership, organized labor, teachers, profs, college students, single mothers and social workers.