By Alex Roarty
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato’s campaign is digging up a nearly 22-year-old vote from Republican opponent Tom Corbett, when he was a local township commissioner, to prove he will raise taxes as governor despite pledging not to do so.
The GOP candidate’s campaign is calling it a “desperate tactic by a desperate campaign” while pointing out that Onorato has raised an array of taxes and fees as Allegheny County executive. But the Democrat maintains the vote is relevant because it’s the only time Corbett has had to vote for a tax increase.
In 1988, Corbett as a Shaler Township commissioner voted to raise proper taxes in the municipality by 20 percent, a vote that was approved 4-3. The Onorato campaign said it one of the largest tax hikes for any municipality in Allegheny County that year.
The vote offers a moment of contrast for Onorato, who has consistently touted the fact he never raised property taxes as Allegheny County’s chief executive. The campaign also argued it shows Corbett’s high-profile pledge not to raise any taxes as governor, despite looming billion-dollar deficits, is unrealistic and indicative of a public official without any experience running government.
“It’s easy for Tom Corbett to tell an audience what they want to hear, but voters should look at the candidates’ records and decide who best can reform Pennsylvania’s government and balance its budget,” said Onorato spokesman Brian Herman, in a statement. “Dan Onorato has six years of balanced budgets with no property tax increases, versus Tom Corbett’s one-year 20 percent property tax hike.”
Herman, in an interview with PoliticsPA, defended citing the 22-year-old vote as relevant to a campaign in 2010.
“Tom Corbett has so little experience, you have to go back 22 years to find anything relevant to the office he’s trying to run for,” the spokesman said.
The Corbett campaign shot back that Onorato’s own record shows how inclined the Democrat is to support tax hikes, including an infamous levy placed on poured alcohol drinks in Allegheny County. In a dossier provided to PoliticsPA, it cited 10 instances of Onorato suggesting, voting for, or enacting a tax as a public official.
“As evidences by his record, Dan Onorato has never met a tax he didn’t like or didn’t hike,” said Corbett campaign spokesman Kevin Harley. “If he is so concerned about a tax vote that Tom Corbett cast as a township supervisor 22 years ago, then he should join Corbett in signing a no new-tax pledge.”
Polls have shown the GOP attorney general maintaining a double-digit lead over his opponent, a margin that data indicate is strongly tied to the public’s distaste of Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell.
“Onorato’s latest attack is a desperate act by a desperate campaign,” said Harley.
Corbett’s no-tax pledge, and whether he can keep it if he assumes office, has been one of the gubernatorial campaign’s biggest debates. Many officials in Harrisburg, on both sides of the aisle, consider it impossible, with Senate Republican Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) going so far to say, in public, that he saw no way it could be done.
The state faces what some project to be a $5 billion deficit next fiscal year with the expiration of federal stimulus money and expected bump in state pension payments.
The no-tax issue came up again in the Capitol on Monday, when lawmakers attended an address by PennDOT Secretary Allen Biehler on how the state can solve a $3 billion gap in its transportation infrastructure needs. Rendell has said the state needs to approve a funding-plan now because if Corbett wins, he won’t approve any tax increases to help pay for the repair of roads, bridges and mass-transit systems.
Senate Republicans, however, have remained steadfast in opposition to approving a plan this year. They maintain they can approve a better proposal next year that would include tax hikes, even if Corbett is governor.
“Good for him,” said Senator John Rafferty (R-Chester), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, when asked about Corbett’s pledge.
“Candidates say a lot, and when they get in office maybe they see things a little differently,” Rafferty said.
Told about the comments, Harley insisted not raising taxes is possible.
“We look forward to working with Senator Rafferty and his colleagues in showing them how to developing common-sense budgets that do not raise taxes,” he said.