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Politically Uncorrected: Corbett’s Last Stand

Corbett BudgetIt’s a trite but true political aphorism: “where you stand depends on where you sit,” meaning we tend to see things differently depending on what perspective we see them from.

If you’re a Pennsylvania Republican, no matter where you “sit,” it’s hard to see what Gov. Corbett did with the 2014-15 budget as anything but a divisive, last-gasp effort to change perceptions of his leadership.

In case you missed it, Corbett, using most of his 10 days to sign or veto the 2014-15, state budget finally decided to do both. He signed it, but excluded about $72 million mostly earmarked for the legislature. This he excised with his line-item veto popularly known as “blue lining.” (A Pennsylvania governor cannot add appropriations to a budget passed by the legislature, but can selectively delete them.)

Corbett wiped out about 20 percent of the money intended to support the General Assembly plus some pet projects. (Before shedding a tear for the legislature be informed that it currently holds some $150 million in “reserve,” more than enough to get it through the year.

Corbett did this to “encourage” the legislature to return to Harrisburg to enact pension reform, his number one priority, and perhaps salvage his swiftly disappearing chances of re-election. (Ignore for the moment that voters don’t care that much about pension reform and list it as their fourth or fifth most important issue. It spoils the story if you worry too much about that.)

To be fair, Corbett was in a bit of a tight corner when the legislature delivered an on time budget sans pension reform. Facing a daunting re-election challenge, he needed some accomplishments.

Still, he had some choices. He could have simply signed the bill, not a great choice because it would make him look weak in the face of the legislatures defiance of his agenda; he could have let the budget become law without his signature, another not so great choice because it would make a politician trying to demonstrate leadership look passive; or, worst choice of all, he could  “blue line” the budget bill, cutting the legislative appropriation and alienating his remaining supporters in the Republican-controlled legislature.

This last worst choice was Corbett’s choice.  He publicly chastised legislators for failing to give him the pension reform he seeks, while enraging many of his own party’s leaders by gutting their own 2014-15 appropriation. For a governor who has been neither bold nor aggressive, this is a bold and aggressive move. In effect, he is declaring war on his own party.

It’s Corbett’s OK Corral moment.

It’s also preface to a political gunfight he seems certain to lose.

First, and foremost, voters just don’t care that much about pension reform. They should but they don’t. And increasingly they think Corbett cannot win reelection; he currently trails his Democratic challenger by more than 20 points.

Second, the legislature can and probably will simply ignore Corbett. They can override his line-item veto with a two-thirds majority or they can live with the cuts, drawing on their ample “reserves” to see them through the rest of Corbett’s term.

Third, the Republican majorities that run the legislature (and we are using the word “run” loosely) simply don’t need Corbett to retain their legislative control or to win in the fall. Probably 90 percent or more of incumbents are now independent political entrepreneurs who look to neither the party nor the governor for continuance in office.

Finally, the legislature simply isn’t going to pass any kind of pension reform this session even close to Corbett’s proposals. The consensus isn’t there; the votes are not there; and the will is not there. It isn’t going to happen.

Corbett does have one more card to play. He could call for a special session of the legislature to work on pension reform. But this is a strategy likely to backfire. Excepting Tom Ridge’s special session on crime in the 1990’s, the record on special sessions is decidedly mixed. More typical is the experience of Gov. Ed Rendell who called a special session on transportation in 2010 that produced nothing.

That’s because in a special session all the legislature has to do is show up. The governor cannot force them to vote up or down on pensions or anything else. They can gavel in, then gavel out and go home, an embarrassment Corbett cannot afford.

Corbett’s dilemma is only partially self-inflicted. Certainly, his leadership style and political skills are not a good fit for the mud wrestling, arm-twisting brand of politics often practiced in Pennsylvania.

But the larger problem exists in the legislature itself. House Republicans are badly split between a militant tea party group and traditional moderates from suburban areas. Moderate Republicans controlling the Senate clash with the more conservative House. And the leadership in both caucuses is no longer able to get together, wheel and deal, and reach compromise on vital issues.

In a very real sense the Pennsylvania legislature has become dysfunctional — much like the U.S. Congress has become dysfunctional — and Corbett, a governor of modest political abilities must deal with that reality.

It’s now clear he can’t do that.

Much more troubling is the growing suspicion no one else can, either.

19 Responses

  1. Excellent items from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff prior to and you are just extremely fantastic. I actually like what you’ve got right here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which through which you are saying it. You’re making it enjoyable and you continue to take care of to keep it sensible. I cant wait to learn much more from you. This is really a tremendous site.

  2. By the way, The Governor was only pointing out something on that document, right? Or. was he sending a message to the Legislature? The Public? Both??

  3. Wait a minute, the so called 8 year cycle was unknown when the Republican Party machine ruled Pennsylvania for over 100 years. The so-called cycle began when George Leader became only the second Democrat in the 20th century at the time to be elected Governor. If the Pennsylvania Constitution had not been changed in 1968, there would not be a so-called 8 year cycle.

  4. micheal who are you to call names to me. I know what im talking bout on guveonors race and you probly aint got no clue who is so you don’t say stuf like that no more, I know people that work in harsburg who see what go in in the state guvenment.

  5. It continues to be a terrible week for the PAGOP and Corbett/Brabender. This dismal performance calls for some human sacrifice. Fire Gleason, Gromis-Baker or Zogby. You gave us the finger Mr. Corbett now give the thumbs down and fire someone to appear like you are serious about victory.

  6. modrate rpublacans aint got no choise but to vote for corbitt because hes the currant guy in office and the way it works in penna. is the partys keep the guv office 8 years at a time then agree to switch to the other party

  7. Isaac, you are absolutely right. As one of those moderate Republicans, I will not be voting for Corbett. How about you?

  8. Republican members of the General Assembly have no incentive to support Governor Corbett at this point – he never engaged them as constitutionally equal partners and expected them to accept his dictates from the beginning – it’s an open secret. Now, he’s an enormous drag on the ticket and Tom Wolf has the business credentials to woo a lot of the moderate Rs who occasionally like to brag about their independent-mindedness voting for the man and not the party.

    Frankly, I’ve run into a surprising number of Republican committeemen and women – the faithful of the faithful – who are openly saying they not only will not campaign for Corbett, but they will cast their vote for Tom Wolf in November. He hitched his cart to the Tea Party bandwagon in 2010 and while that worked in that cycle, this state is just not that far right.

  9. Note the recent ouster of Scott Wagner nemesis, Robert Wilson, as York County Republican Committee chair. It is interesting that both Tom Wolf who runs a very successful, non-union manufacturing business and Scott Wagner are both from York County.

    I would not be surprised if solidly York county goes for Tom Wolf given his very favorable name recognition in that county and given Tom Corbett’s complicity in the manipulation of York County Senatorial Special Election.

    York Daily Record’s Ed Mahon has done nice work in detailing the manipulations of Corbett, Cawley, Pileggi, Wilson, Miller in influencing the outcome of Senate District 28 special election and then Republican primary.

    Scott Wagner beat them all. Smart, well-financed, principled and politically astute, Scott Wagner is a man to watch.

    Scott Wagner has taken the lead on Paycheck Protection, the political litmus test, as Ryan Shafik has written, for fiscally responsible candidates.

  10. As to dealing with the legislature, look forward to Governor Scott Wagner who is highly competent, politically skilled, and fiscally astute.

    Governor Scott Wagner would be willing fearlessly willing to confront the union dominated legislature and bring obvious fiscal common sense to the state’s finances.

  11. Until the unions are confronted, I don’t see any chance that SERS and PSERS pension economics will be addressed. The numbers are the numbers and it will only be until reality becomes so dramatic that it cannot be avoided that the issue will be dealt with an economically reasonable manner.
    The Unions have infiltrated the Republican Party.

    Sen. Rafferty, known as the proponent of the $2.4 Bbillion ‘gas tax’ increase, is an obstacle to pension reform.

    The Republican Party leadership can no more be trusted with money than any Democrat.

    We are expecting a Tom Wolf governorship. His financing is independent of the unions so, who knows, the Black Swan may appear to save us from the path we have chosen by failing to elect fiscal adults who respect the numbers.

    And it appears that unlike the AG, Tom Wolf is competent.

  12. @ DD:

    You asserted “the public doesn’t…care for Corbett’s proposals.”


  13. Robert-
    It’s not that the public doesn’t care about Pension Reform, it’s that they don’t care for Corbett’s proposals.

    The state has an obligation to raise funds to honor it’s commitment to workers. The workers have been holding up their end and putting their share into to the pot, while the state has abrogated its responsibilities. Therefore the state needs to raise revenue to cover its share, not increase the share of the workers to make up for the state’s failure.

    So, REAL reform is for the state to honor its promises, responsibilities and obligations so that pensions are fully funded.

  14. Is this the first time in PA political history that a sitting Governor gave an obscene gesture to the legislature of his own party? Has Corbett be hanging out far too much with Christie? Will Corbett close down lanes on the Walt Whitman to vent his anger? Pennsylvania can do better than this.

  15. Truly, someone needs to tell the sorrid backstory behind the rigged PATIENTS FIRST deal! It’s looking more each day that getting this deal done will be perhaps the only achievement in the Gromis-Baker tenure as Chief of Staff. So let me ask one question for the big press: how much did Acting Governor Brabender make in fees from any of these parties? Is taking steps leading to the future demise of Highmark and its health system truly advantageous to Western PA Health consumer or just UPMC’s World Class Jeff Romoff? t: Fábregas: Highmark-UPMC deal feels like a divorce | TribLIVE

  16. The argument that the public doesn’t care about pension-reform recalls the rationalization that America is war-weary so we should permit the creation of an Islamic Caliphate to go unchallenged; in both instances, a leader must be called-upon to explain the issues to the people and to risk defeat…but not without a fight…for the Commonweal.

  17. Tom Wolf.
    25 years as a chief executive.
    Adept at building relationships.
    Established track record of developing and enhancing sales and manufacturing-driven revenue streams.
    Locally celebrated job creator.
    Pays living wages and shares profits.

    Tom Corbett.
    3 1/2 years as a chief executive.
    Historic low approval ratings in every poll since early 2012 (essentially everybody hates him, including legislative leaders of his own party.)
    Crippled state cash flow (started with a $1 billion surplus, now $1,5 billion in the hole. State auditor general says this budget will not last 6 months.).
    Lost 45,000 state jobs (says he “created” 178,000 private sector jobs, although most are low-pay retail with no benefits and people with two part-time jobs are counted twice, meanwhile Pennsylvania dropped from 7th to 49th in job creation.)
    Never made a payroll in his life where the cash flow was not the captive taxpayer.

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