(155) PA Governor Tom Corbett would like to have a few more legislative achievements to tout in his campaign for re-election.
By his own choosing, Corbett’s 2014 campaign for re-election to another four-year term actually began the day after the municipal election this year. The Republican began his campaign on a simplistic but appealing theme.
“More jobs, less taxes.”
Critics find fault with these citations of success. Corbett appears to take credit for new private sector jobs created, ignoring the significant number of other private and public sectors paychecks that were lost.
Taxes have been reduced, but for businesses, not individuals. Corbett never proposed reducing income or sales taxes, which effects wage earners the most.
In reality, taxes for working stiffs indirectly went up. He balanced three annual budgets and still cut business taxes. To achieve this, he doled out state subsidies to local school districts sparingly, forcing school boards to increase property taxes.
At the beginning of his administration, Corbett tried to curb the collective bargaining powers of teacher unions, but lawmakers refused to go along. Corbett can be the first governor to fail to be re-elected since a constitutional change allowed chief executives to run for a second term in 1974. His failure to get cooperation from the legislature will be a factor.
Corbett is learning the negative side of gerrymandering.
Democrats hold a one million-voter registration plurality in this state, but it has only counted when Barack Obama was on the ballot. In nearly all other elections, Republicans win. Republicans control the state executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.
Last Tuesday, less than twenty percent of registered voters bothered to cast ballots for a vacant superior court judgeship. Republican Vic Stabile bested Democrat Jack McVay Jr. by over 50,000 votes in the only statewide election in 2013.
Gone are the days of party loyalty, however. The Governor is no longer even titular head of the party.
Corbett learned that first with the PA Supreme Court. He pushed the legislature – without a single Democrat lawmaker supporting – to adopt a stringent voter identification law.
Critics claimed the law might disenfranchise 750,000 Democrats, almost eliminating the registration deficit.
Republican Mike Turzai, House Majority Leader, was so estatic he announced the new law would deliver the state for presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Turzai and Corbett were disappointed when a Republican controlled Supreme Court refused to uphold the new law.
Perhaps they had always known that they only get one shot at an appellate judge. They only run in a contested election to win a first ten-year term. After, they can earn another ten-year term if a majority of the voters cast “yes” in what is known as a retention election.
In the case of legislators, Republicans will have to deal with “too much” gerrymandering. The term applies to voter reapportionment process following a US census that tends to benefit the political party in power.
PA Republicans may have done too good of a job after the 2010 census. While President Obama carried the state handily in his 2012 re-election bid, Republicans retained control of both the House and Senate in Harrisburg. Moreover, a million more votes were cast for Democrat candidates for Congress than Republicans. Yet, because of the re-drawing of boundaries, Republicans hold 13 of the 18 seats in Washington.
Here is how this applies to Corbett’s legislative program.
The Governor is looking for a funding program for state roads and bridges. Some Republicans believe even those taxes should not be raised, despite conditions of our infrastructure. Some Republicans are opposed to funds for mass transit (to finance union bus drivers) or think the ceiling for projects where prevailing wages are not required should be raised. Shorting mass transit or raising the prevailing wage floor make it difficult to attract Democrat legislative votes.
Some moderate Republican lawmakers are also thumbing their noses at the Governor’s desire to privatize the sale of alcoholic beverages and the state lottery. If Corbett gets his way, 2,000 bars and restaurants get permission to offer keno, deflating the value of gaming licenses casinos forked over $50 million each.
Bottom Line: No surprises above. Corbett served six years as state attorney general and is a career prosecutor. He ran for governor on the backs of legislators he put in jail. Prosecutors are not known for political skills and Corbett has yet to earn the trust of lawmakers.