In 2009, on day three of the Obama administration, the President met with Eric Cantor and a handful of other congressional leaders in the White House. The way Cantor tells it, he presented Obama with a list of GOP ideas for righting the economy. According to Cantor, Obama observed that he disagreed with Republican tax policy, and then said: “Elections have consequences.”
They sure do. Yesterday, for the second year in a row, Gov. Corbett presented an austere budget that holds the line on tax hikes and calls for cuts of 20 percent to 30 percent at many of the state’s publicly funded universities. Nobody should be surprised. Gov. Corbett has governed just as Candidate Corbett promised to, and this proposed budget very much reflects the values of the man who crafted it. Last year, after Corbett’s first budget landed with a thud in a Harrisburg accustomed to the candy-store style of Gov. Rendell, Corbett was exasperated. “If you didn’t want me to do it, then don’t elect me,” he told Philadelphia magazine.
Corbett’s first budget cut spending 4.1 percent, and a lot of people—particularly in Philadelphia—reacted as though the world was melting. By comparison, Corbett’s latest budget is, by comparison, tame. Overall, spending is pretty much flat.
But as relatively benign as the overall numbers might be, this is a tough budget for Philadelphia. Corbett’s top targets this round are colleges, public welfare and the K-12 accountability block grant program. Translation: $42 million from Temple University, about 30 percent of the total state subsidy for the school; a $21.6 million block grant cut to Philadelphia public schools (outweighing a modest overall increase in K-12 funding); and the General Assistance Program, a cash program for the neediest of the needy, who are more heavily concentrated in Philadelphia than anywhere else in the state.
Elections have consequences.
Still, compared to Corbett’s first budget, this proposal is downright moderate. The governor clearly viewed his first year as a necessary corrective to the free-spending Rendell. But this budget makes it clear that Corbett does not intend to grind the government to dust. Indeed, unlike some of his GOP counterparts in other statehouses, Corbett plainly sees a place for targeted public investment, particularly when he feels the spending could create jobs. Indeed, his address touted state investments at the Port of Philadelphia, which, combined with federal dredging dollars, stand to create a lot of blue-collar jobs.
And I think this is what we can expect of Corbett going forward. He has one budget bright line: no tax hikes (save the Marcellus Shale fee, which is perhaps the most modest natural gas extraction tax in the nation).
“We will not raise taxes,” he said at his address. “There is no talking around these limits. Every dollar taken in tax is one less dollar in the hands of a job-holder or a job-creator. Every dollar spent by government is one dollar less in the sector that creates real prosperity.”
Otherwise, though, he’s not allergic to spending. The trouble is, for now at least, there’s precious little to spend.