Tom Corbett and GOP Fail Pennsylvania — Again
If you strike out two of every three times at bat, you’re a Hall of Famer. One out of four gives you a long career. But go 0 for the season and your contract won’t be renewed.
On that last point, welcome to the lives of Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature.
Once again, the pols have recessed for the summer with zero success passing any major initiatives, keeping Pennsylvania stuck in the dark ages. So where does that leave us? Do we carry the torch of hope that lights the way to a better tomorrow? Do we still possess the faith that each successive generation will fare better than the one before it?
And because Corbett, who had a 10-point victory in 2010, and the Republican legislature, which enjoys historic majorities in both houses, lack the courage to fix our once-great commonwealth, Pennsylvania further plummets into the oblivion of mediocrity.
If things were peachy, doing nothing would be acceptable. But they aren’t, and “business as usual” — the endless routine of committee meetings, press releases, and little substantive action — won’t break the logjam created by years of inaction.
Our politicians don’t understand — or don’t care — that this crisis has put the economic health of our state in serious jeopardy. Too many hide and duck or are just flat-out incompetent, breeding a climate of cynicism and mistrust — toxic to the optimism so necessary for growth.
Not all that long ago, Pennsylvania was the leading industrial state in the country — and a leader on the world stage. It was a powerful magnet for companies to locate here, and with them came the best and brightest workforce in America. Our children were educated in the state, and actually stayed in Pennsylvania because of the jobs created by a booming economy.
But now, with our well-deserved reputation for corruption and a government seemingly hostile to all but the insiders, we stand at the brink.
And yet with everything in their favor, including widespread support on a number of issues, the Governor and legislature dropped the ball — again. Consider:
1. Liquor privatization: Despite the vast majority of Pennsylvanians favoring the state getting out of the liquor business — with the reasonable expectation that consumer choice would rise and prices would fall — nothing happened. Given the Republicans’ total control, this abysmal failure must be laid at the feet of Corbett. Saying “I want privatization” but not lifting a finger to get it is pathetic. There was no barnstorming the state, no use of the bully pulpit, no playing hardball with recalcitrant Republicans. In fact, he all but ignored the legislature until the 11th hour, and even then screwed the pooch. But what else is new?
The only silver lining is that the privatization bills were ill-conceived, as none eliminated the whopping 18 percent Johnstown Flood Tax (of 1936) levied on every bottle of wine and liquor. Failure to do so in the future (and the odds are long that anything will happen in the fall) will only serve to lessen choice and raise prices, making “privatization” a bad word. Leave it to Corbett to take a great idea and turn it to dung. Bottom line: Do it right, or don’t do it at all.
2. Pension reform: The problem of massively ballooning pension payments over the next several years is so monumental that it threatens the very stability of the state. Given that Corbett has demonstrated an inability to handle even the most basic matters, the assumption that he could tackle such a pressing problem was a fairy tale. But he and the legislature punted on even the most fundamental reform: requiring all future state employees be given a 401k plan rather than a pension. A no-brainer, to be sure, and one that no reasonable person could oppose, since public employees should never have a hands-down advantage over those in the private sector. But nothing was done.
And the next generation will thank Corbett for this massive debt load by fleeing as soon as they can. Brilliant.
3. Transportation: This is yet another issue that, while long overdue, thankfully didn’t happen. Incomprehensibly, the Senate passed a bill that would have placed a 37-cent-per-gallon gas tax on Pennsylvanians to fix roads and bridges. Thankfully the House nixed that, but here’s the kicker: Corbett wanted upward of a 75-cent-per-gallon tax, which would have made Pennsylvania’s gas tax the highest in the nation.
Since when is breaking the backs of Pennsylvanians the path to prosperity? Instead of raising taxes, here’s an idea: Why not increase revenue by instituting pro-growth policies? It’s really not that hard. If you make Pennsylvania a viable place to do business, companies will come, as will their employees — and a whole boatload of revenue follows. The more money pumped into the economy, the more state coffers fill. But that remains a foreign concept, with Pennsylvania maintaining one of the most hostile business climates in the nation.
But what do you expect from lawyers/politicians with virtually no real-world business experience? Who have never encountered innovation-stifling and job-killing rules and regulations? Who have never had to meet a payroll? Who don’t know what it’s like to look a longtime employee in the eye and issue a pink slip because the government forces his hand?
We should expect exactly what we get. Nothing.
4. Second-highest corporate tax: One way not to attract business is by maintaining the second-highest corporate net income tax in the country. Lowering it is an issue both business and labor could and should agree upon, and it should have been done on Day One. Creating jobs floats all boats, union and otherwise. But nothing was done.
Astoundingly, the Corbett plan recently unveiled is to lower that rate by just three points — but over 12 years! Seriously? What savvy CEO will jump on the “opportunity” to come to Pennsylvania on the off-chance that the state will lower its tax by 2025? That level of obtuseness is so great that I am, for once, at a loss of words.
OK, that’s not true. But the words are unprintable.
5. Philadelphia’s schools. The way not to bail out the black hole called Philly schools is by throwing more taxpayer money at the problem and holding onto jobs that need to be eliminated. Shedding 3,800 school district positions isn’t a travesty — it’s a good start. Cutting art and music isn’t the answer, however — increasing revenue is. But rather than force Mayor Nutter and Philadelphia to live within its means, however, like families and businesses do, Corbett and the legislature just perpetuated a failed system.
The chance to fix education through school choice, competition and other reforms came and went. So things will only get worse, if that’s even possible. However, if city revenue were increased by attracting business and residents, then at least the rest of the state wouldn’t yet again be funding Philadelphia’s bad habits. But it’s a case of chicken and the egg. How do you entice companies when you are the cumulatively highest-taxed city in the nation with skyrocketing levels of crime, homeless and poverty?
Common sense dictates that the answer isn’t throwing money, with no accountability, at the problem, nor extending the city’s 8 percent sales tax. But that’s exactly what they did.
After the Hurricane Katrina debacle, there was absolutely nothing George W. Bush could do to save his presidency or his party. With reelection numbers in the 20s, Tom Corbett is in the same position. (Republicans already lost 10 percent of their Senate membership in 2012, and the first-ever Democrat was elected as attorney general, Corbett’s prior position.) The only difference between Bush and Corbett is that it only took our governor two years to achieve such a distinction.
If there were All Star voting in politics, Tom Corbett wouldn’t even be on the ballot.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. He can be reached at [email protected].