PA-Gov Round-Up: Pension and Education Crises

PA-Governor-Mansion2Last week was about personalities but this week we returned to the issues.

Specifically the issues of education, which polls show voters are most concerned about, and pensions, which the Governor is most worried about and feels is related to the problem of funding schools.

Given the last few weeks, it is not an absurd assumption to guess that education will be the issue most mentioned by Wolf this year while pensions will be brought up as much if not more by the Governor.

Corbett

The Corbett-Cawley campaign has been intensely focused since the budget season on attacking Wolf for not recognizing the pension crisis that the Governor believes is at the heart of the commonwealth’s fiscal problems.

They pointed out that State Rep. Mike Sturla, the Democratic caucus policy chairman, acknowledged that the pension issue needs to be addressed.

“Even as millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf’s surrogates acknowledge Pennsylvania has a pension crisis, Wolf continues turn a blind eye and appease the interests of the public sector unions who have given him $1.13 million since he purchased the Democratic nomination in May,” said Corbett-Cawley Communications Director Chris Pack.  “Governor Corbett is the only one willing to stand up to the public sector unions and get pension reform done and costs under control for future generations.”

The cries from the Governor’s campaign became even louder after Moody’s downgraded the state’s credit rating and cited pensions as one of the contributing factors.

“Moody’s has cited the Commonwealth’s growing pension liabilities as a primary reason for downgrading Pennsylvania’s credit rating despite millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf’s repeated denial of a pension crisis,” Pack stated. “It is a true shame that despite all of the evidence of our state’s pension crisis that Secretary Tom Wolf continues to deny there is a problem at all.  It is time for Secretary Tom Wolf to stop denying our state’s pension crisis for his selfish political reasons and instead encourage his Democratic cohorts to do what is right for the 12.7 million residents of Pennsylvania and not just what is best for the Harrisburg special interests.”

It’s clear the Corbett campaign feels pensions are their strongest issue but it remains to be seen whether they can successfully connect that issue to the one voters (and Wolf) are focusing on, education.

Wolf

After the Corbett campaign took aim at Wolf in a new television ad, the Democratic nominee attacked the Governor for what he identified as a billion dollar cut in education funding.

“Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from education, leading to teacher layoffs and property tax increases, while refusing to make oil and gas companies pay their fair share,” said Beth Melena, the campaign’s spokeswoman. “Tom Corbett sunk Pennsylvania to 49th in the nation in job growth. Now he is spending millions in attacks that have already been called false and ridiculously misleading. After more than three years of failed policies and no leadership, Pennsylvanians are ready for a fresh start.”

Meanwhile, Mike Mikus of FreshStartPA went after Gov. Corbett for speaking in front of an apparently preselected group of Bucks County seniors. He also made clear that the pension and education crises are the fault of the incumbent.

“Tom Corbett is trying to hide from the fact that his $1 billion dollar cut to education is what has driven up property taxes in Pennsylvania and that his pension plan will offer no immediate savings,” Mikus wrote.

“Not only would Tom Corbett’s pension plan do nothing to create short-term savings, it also would do nothing to reduce the unfunded liability. This means that Corbett’s pension plan would not help to upgrade Pennsylvania’s $11.1 billion general obligation bonds to our previous rating of Aa2.”

Expect to hear much more about pensions and education in the weeks and months ahead.

PA-Gov: New Corbett Ad Blasts Wolf on Taxes (VIDEO)

Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign released a new 30-second TV advertisement that attacks Democratic nominee Tom Wolf on the issue of taxes.

The commercial alleges that Wolf, as revenue secretary under Gov. Rendell, tried to raise a variety of taxes.

“When Tom Wolf was the state’s top tax collector, he tried to raise taxes on almost everything,” the narrator says in the ad. “Wolf called for a new garbage tax and a home heating and electric tax. Wolf even tried increasing the state sales tax.”

In addition, the ad claims that Wolf moved his company to Delaware to “avoid paying the same taxes he forced us to pay.”

The 30-second ad ends with a bang.

“If there was a hypocrite tax, Tom Wolf would owe a lot of money.”

Wolf’s people, for their part, issued a response to Corbett’s new ad.

According to Wolf campaign spokeswoman Beth Melena, Corbett “is spending millions in attacks that have already been called false and ridiculously misleading” by media fact-checkers in order to distract voters from his “three years of failed leadership.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, who trails Wolf by 20 points in the latest polls, is going on the attack early in order to chip away at that lead.

PA-Gov: Corbett Ordered to Release Smog Plan Correspondence

Governor-Tom-CorbettThe Governor and PA environmentalists are currently in a heated battle over the creation of the state’s smog pollution solution.

According to a report from the Harrisburg Patriot News, The Sierra Club has successfully appealed a refusal by Governor Corbett’s office to release documents related to the drafting of a state plan intended to reduce smog pollution.

The Sierra Club is interested in correspondence concerning the smog plan because it believes that the drafters may have been compromised due to influence from corporations that contribute to PA’s smog.

The Sierra Club requested the documents in April through a Right-to-Know request, but was denied via claims that the documents requested were “internal, predecisional deliberations” and subject to attorney-client privilege.

The request came after the Sierra Club claimed that the smog plan released by the administration, which was federally required due to PA’s poor air quality, included standards that actually allowed coal plants to increase their smog pollution.

“We want to understand why this plan is so poor,” Sierra Club spokeswoman Kim Teplitzky said. “It doesn’t appear they (the plan’s drafters) were listening to us, so we would like to know who else they were listening to.”

The Office of Open Records issued today that Corbett must hand over “any and all records” concerning the drafting of the plan to the Sierra Club. This includes correspondence with the corporations in the industry that the Sierra Club believes influenced the plan’s drafting.

The governor’s office also worked to ensure that this ruling would exclude Gov. Corbett, and would only pertain to the thirteen members of his Executive Staff. The Office of Open Records, however, maintained that the governor’s own correspondence must be released.

Corbett’s office has 30 days to either provide the Sierra Club with the records or to appeal the decision with the Commonwealth Court.

“People deserve to know what’s going into the plan itself because it has an impact on people’s health…and their kids’ health,” Teplitzky said. “The Office of Open Records was very clear in their ruling, so we hope the administration will follow suit and release the records.”

The governor’s office has so far declined to comment.

PA-Gov: Democratic PAC’s New Ad Blasts Corbett (VIDEO)

PA Families First, an independent PAC, shelled out nearly $2 million to air a new television advertisement that attacks Governor Corbett for his alleged cuts to education.

The 30 second ad will air in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.

Entitled “Paycheck,” the advertisement discusses Corbett’s first budget, which cut basic school funding by $1 billion. Local districts subsequently made cutbacks, and raised property taxes in some areas.

Corbett stated that he did not cut funding and has invested $1.5 billion in education over the last four decades. He believes that his challenger Tom Wolf will ignore the current pension crisis, an issue that the Governor states is the main cause for property tax increases.

The ad also places pressure on Corbett to back a production tax on Pennsylvania’s natural-gas drilling industry.

The natural gas industry “is not paying its fair share,” according to the advertisement.

The Corbett campaign countered that natural gas companies have paid over $2 billion in taxes over the last six years. The $630 million “local impact fee” also had statewide benefits.

Chris Pack, the Governor’s communications director stated that “Wolf has been bought and paid for by the public sector union bosses…to ignore the need for pension reform in Pennsylvania.”

According to Thomas Fitzgerald of the Inquirer, PA Families First is supported by the Democratic Governor’s Association, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.

So far this month, another outside PAC called NextGen and the Wolf-aligned FreshStartPA have also launched ads against Governor Corbett.

Moody’s Downgrades Pennsylvania’s Credit Rating

110810_moodys_ap_605Credit rating agency Moody’s decided to downgrade Pennsylvania’s rating from Aa2 to Aa3 on its $11.1 billion in general obligation bonds.

A statement from Moody’s explains why the downgrade was necessary: “The downgrade of the general obligation rating to Aa3 reflects the commonwealth’s growing structural imbalance, exacerbated by the fiscal 2015 enacted budget that depends on non-recurring resources; a weak GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] balance position that will further deteriorate based on the budget’s one-time measures; and the expectation that large and growing pension liabilities coupled with modest economic growth will limit Pennsylvania’s ability to regain structural balance in the near term.”

Gov. Tom Corbett, who at first refused to sign the state budget proposal without significant pension reform, seemed vindicated by Moody’s criticism.

“It’s clear that this pension crisis has put severe strain on Pennsylvania’s finances,” Corbett said. “As families struggle with skyrocketing property taxes, pension costs are consuming more than 60 cents of every new dollar of state general fund revenues. Doing nothing is not an option and doing nothing fails our families.”

Not surprisingly, the downgrade has turned into a political ‘blame game,’ with Gov. Corbett blaming the lack of pension reform and Democrats condemning Corbett’s leadership.

“Today, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Pennsylvania’s credit rating citing Tom Corbett’s gimmick-filled budget, weak economy, and failed leadership,” Democratic nominee Tom Wolf said.

Corbett’s campaign responded in kind to Wolf’s comments.

“Moody’s has cited the Commonwealth’s growing pension liabilities as a primary reason for downgrading Pennsylvania’s credit rating despite millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf’s repeated denial of a pension crisis,” Chris Pack, communications director for the Corbett-Cawley Campaign said. “It is a true shame that despite all of the evidence of our state’s pension crisis that Secretary Tom Wolf continues to deny there is a problem at all. It is time for Secretary Tom Wolf to stop denying our state’s pension crisis for his selfish political reasons and instead encourage his Democratic cohorts to do what is right for the 12.7 million residents of Pennsylvania and not just what is best for the Harrisburg special interests.”

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) countered, “He had four years to try to do things right, but all he did was put our state in a more precarious financial position. The governor’s near-total reliance on one-time, non-recurring revenue to ‘balance’ this year’s budget was transparently political, and Moody’s called him out on it.”

Republicans stood behind Corbett, claiming that pension reform is the reason why Moody’s decided to downgrade the commonwealth.

“In signing four balanced budgets, the governor has closed a $4 billion budget deficit while refusing to raise taxes on Pennsylvania families,” State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby said. “The bottom line is that structural deficiencies threaten the long-term stability and sustainability of our public pension systems, putting Pennsylvania taxpayers and the public school employees’ futures at risk. The time for pension reform is now.”

The downgrade from Aa2 to Aa3 may make it harder for the state to borrow money in the future, though Moody’s views Pennsylvania’s outlook as “stable.” What may be more important for our elected officials is who gets stuck with the blame for Pennsylvania’s financial issues heading into the election in November.

Reader Poll: Who is your Favorite Former PA Governor?

PA-Governor-Mansion2Well, we once again find ourselves in the midst of a gubernatorial race.

Given that we’re stuck in that summer lull between the end of primary season and Labor Day, it seems like the perfect opportunity to take a look back at the past occupants of the Governor’s Mansion.

Since the 1968 State Constitution, PA’s leaders have been able to run for a second term. Therefore, this makes sense as a logical point to start with. Additionally, since incumbent Governor Tom Corbett is still in the midst of this tenure it wouldn’t be fair to include him.

Finally, we’ll only include chief executives who were elected to their position (sorry Gov. Schweiker).

So, dear readers, which former Governor is your favorite?

Who is your personal favorite former PA Governor?

View Results

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Corbett Reluctant to Allow Immigrant Children into Pennsylvania

Governor-Tom-CorbettThe Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, Allegheny County, has offered to take care of some of the child immigrants from Central America, but Gov. Tom Corbett is worried about the spread of disease.

In addition to his health concerns, Corbett believes that the children who crossed the border illegally must be returned to their native countries.

“We feel for these children that they are fleeing their countries. We want to make sure they are taken care of and returned to their countries. But we also are concerned about their health and what they may cause as far as health issues in the state of Pennsylvania,” Corbett said in a statement.

“From my standpoint, where they are coming in, there are certainly enough military bases in Texas and Arizona that the federal government could at least house them there temporarily to make sure before they send them to any state that their health conditions are okay for that,” he continued. “That they’ve had all their immunizations and so forth because we have a strong concern on that. From a humanitarian standpoint you want to make sure these kids get taken care of but they need to be returned to their country of origin.”

Though Pennsylvania is many miles from the U.S.-Mexican border, Corbett is uneasy about the immigrants possible effect on the commonwealth.

“Measles is one that comes to mind very quickly and what other diseases that they may or may not have,” Corbett explained. “We can not be a country that just takes everything that comes here without at least looking into the background of this. And again this is one where the federal government hasn’t even talked to the states about ‘Can we send them into your state?’”

The Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, which is run by Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, volunteered to temporarily host a portion of the immigrant children.

David Zubik, the bishop of Pittsburgh, has released a statement regarding the Central American kids.

“There have been questions as to why Catholics are involved,” Zubik said. “The Catholic Church responds to humanitarian crises here at home and all across the world because we are pro-life. Being pro-life requires we protect and care for vulnerable persons from conception to natural death. It has been reported that some of these children are fleeing violence. The current law requires that they receive a hearing to determine if in fact they are refugees fleeing grave danger.”

“Whether they are traveling because of poverty, or violence, or with the hope of reuniting with relatives on the other side of the border, followers of Jesus are called to protect these children and help them because they are very vulnerable and defenseless against any abuse or misfortune.”

The national discourse over what to do with the Central American illegal immigrant children has apparently spread to Pennsylvania. Bishop Zubik is ready to welcome the immigrant kids; Gov. Corbett, meanwhile, is nervous about allowing the the Central American children into the commonwealth.

PA-Gov Round-Up: Who is Tom Steyer and How Did He Get in This Race?

PA-Governor-Mansion2This week, all of a sudden, a third Tom popped up in the race for PA Governor.

Corbett

It all began last Friday when NextGen, a 501(c)(4) organization founded by billionaire Tom Steyer that focuses on climate change, launched a TV ad criticizing Gov. Corbett for his support of oil and gas companies.

The Corbett-Cawley campaign responded later that day by labeling Steyer a “San Francisco billionaire” and questioning his motives and qualifications.

“Tom Steyer is a hypocrite who made his fortune by investing in the coal industry who is now waging a war on coal because it will benefit him financially,” Communications Director Chris Pack stated.

Meanwhile, Steyer found himself under fire when the New York Times reported on investments his firm had made in fossil fuel industries. Steyer wrote a response in Politico Magazine explaining how, as he also states on NextGen’s website, he left the organization after a personal revelation lead him to focus on the dangers of climate change.

The Corbett campaign and the RGA continued to hammer Steyer throughout the week and called on Wolf to denounce him.

“Liberal California billionaire Tom Steyer masquerades as an environmentalist, but his bottom line tells a different story,” RGA Communications Director Gail Gitcho said. “Steyer uses his wealth and connections to influence government officials to push his own agenda, so it’s no surprise he’s bankrolling Tom Wolf’s campaign with misleading attacks on the same kind of energy projects that Pennsylvanians rely on.”

The practice of turning a high-profile political contributor into a partisan boogeyman is a common political tactic. Republicans have regularly denounced Hungarian magnate George Soros ever since he pledged to oust then-President George W. Bush in 2003. Similarly, Democrats have ceaselessly used the Koch Brothers as a foil ever since Jane Mayer wrote a seminal New Yorker piece on Charles and David Koch.

It appears Steyer is becoming the next figure of scorn and Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race is where it all started.

Wolf

On the other side, Democratic nominee Tom Wolf sought to fight back against the Governor’s own attack ad concerning Wolf’s time as Secretary of Revenue.

“It’s not a surprise that Tom Corbett is attacking Tom Wolf with misleading and false ads. Pennsylvanians are ready for a fresh start, especially after more than three years of Tom Corbett’s failed leadership,” said Wolf Campaign Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan. “Under Tom Corbett, education has suffered, gas companies aren’t paying their fair share, and Pennsylvania has fallen to the bottom in job creation. Tom Corbett has increased the tax burden on the middle class, while letting his top donors off the hook.”

Sheridan also took umbrage at the assertion that Wolf was trying to hide his time in Governor Rendell’s cabinet from the voters.

“Tom proudly mentioned his time as Revenue Secretary throughout the campaign including in his first TV ad,” he wrote. “While Secretary of Revenue, Tom instituted reforms that protected and strengthened the state lottery, which laid the foundation for millions of dollars in additional benefits for our seniors. As Revenue Secretary, Tom turned down the perks and donated his salary to charity. He even drove his own Jeep all across Pennsylvania to meet with 2,000+ workers and learn more about their jobs.”

June Jobs Report: Unemployment Rate Remains Steady at 5.6%

Unemployment-300x225The latest jobs report is in, showing a steady unemployment rate and an increase in private sector jobs.

The state job numbers will play a major role in the 2014 campaign so this is an ongoing PoliticsPA feature.

The Good News:

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate, 5.6%, is better than the nation average (6.1%) and is the lowest its been since September 2008.

Around 1,800 jobs were added during the month of June. Most of the growth came from the private sector, which saw an increase of 5,600 jobs.

The biggest gains in June occurred in the construction industry (2.7%), trade, transportation and utilities industry (5.3%), and in financial activities (2.6%).

Gov. Tom Corbett, who faces a tough reelection bid against Democratic nominee Tom Wolf, was pleased with the numbers.

“The people of our state didn’t send me to Harrisburg to make friends, they sent me to build a stronger Pennsylvania, and we continue to see that vision reflected in another positive jobs report,” Corbett said in a statement.  “We have now created 184,000 new private sector jobs and have more people working in our private sector than at any other point in the history of the Commonwealth.  That’s our vision – and that is the stronger Pennsylvania we will continue building over the next four and a half years.”

The Pennsylvania GOP also lauded the latest jobs report.

“Tom Corbett’s policies have created a culture of job growth in Pennsylvania,” Chairman Rob Gleason said. “Today’s jobs report is great news for our Commonwealth. When Governor Corbett was sworn into office, he was faced with an unemployment rateover 8%.  Tom Corbett’s efforts have lowered the unemployment rate to 5.6%, well below the national average. Under the leadership of Governor Tom Corbett, 184,000 Pennsylvanians are going back to work, and he’s not done yet.”

In the eyes of Republicans, another positive jobs report can only bolster Corbett’s chances in November.

The Not So Good News:

The unemployment rate for June stayed the same as from May. This breaks a streak of ten straight months of the state’s rate dropping.

Additionally, while private employment increased, 3,800 public sector jobs were lost.

Finally, the total civilian workforce declined by 28,000 to 6,403,000 while resident employment decreased by 22,000.

PA-Gov: FreshStartPA Increases Activity, Releases Corbett Footage (VIDEO)

FreshStartPA continues to up its game this week, and is apparently following Gov. Corbett on his campaign trail.

After releasing its first negative Corbett ad on its YouTube channel on Tuesday, the PAC sent out a press release with a link to the organization’s second video: a minute and a half clip showing press conference attendees heckling the governor yesterday in Lehigh Valley.

In the video, Gov. Corbett smiles as he calls on a male attendee for the final question of the conference. The man stands up and starts with “Gov. Corbett – We love our teachers.” Corbett responds “Absolutely,” and all heads turn as a woman to the left states loudly, “Clearly you don’t.”

The man goes on to say that Lehigh Valley residents don’t want Corbett “messing with their retirement pensions.” Loud applause covers the tail end of the man’s comments, making it difficult to discern if he even asked a question at all.

As Corbett attempts to explain that his pension reform would apply only to new teachers, not those already working, another female voice, possibly belonging to the same woman, yells “You love Marcellus Shale more,” and the male who originally accused Corbett of attacking teachers responds “What makes you think we don’t love our new upcoming teachers?”

After a few seconds of the attendee and Corbett attempting to shout over each other, Corbett quickly ends the conference.

In the press release accompanying the video, FreshStartPA spokesman Mike Mikus focused on Corbett’s inability to respond to the man’s comments. “Tom Corbett cannot defend his billion dollar cuts to education or his failure to enact a reasonable severance tax that will help fund our schools,” he said. “… he can’t even answer the tough questions asked by Pennsylvanians.”

Regardless of the feelings of the conference attendees in the video, it’s clear that FreshStartPA intends to increase its media presence in the upcoming weeks, and will certainly be releasing more videos on its YouTube page, and press releases to direct attention to them.

This type of tactic, where opponents follow a candidate around looking for any mistake gained widespread popularity in 2006 after Virginia Senator George Allen’s career was ended by some racially insensitive comments aimed at a video chronicler.

The recently formed PAC, however, still has a long way to go, as the organization’s YouTube page currently has only four subscribers.

Update: “As the media knows all too well, Secretary Tom Wolf continues to dodge answering any questions that are asked of him,” stated Corbett-Cawley Communications Director Chris Pack.  “We hope that Secretary Tom Wolf studies False Start PA’s video that shows a textbook manner in which to respond to a question – by simply answering it.”

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