Rob McCord Is Ready to Rumble

Why the treasurer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate says he's the best man to evict Tom Corbett.


Of all the major candidates running for governor in Pennsylvania, Democrat Rob McCord is the one who seems like he might be happiest in a flat-out political brawl.

That tendency revealed itself again this week, when McCord criticized sitting Gov. Tom Corbett, calling Corbett’s alternative to a Medicaid expansion “boneheaded from beginning to end” and adding that Corbett doesn’t understand the state’s public pension system. For that, Corbett and the GOP decried McCord’s “bully tactics.”

“The fundamental tasks of the person who gets this job, meaning the job of the Democratic nominee for governor, the fundamental tasks are first, to actually win in November. To defeat and evict Tom Corbett,” McCord says. “And then second, to actually get good work done in my view, for working people primarily.”

McCord talked with Philly Mag this week about the campaign, his views, and his capacity to beat Corbett in November’s general election.

Let’s start out with what appears to be your boldest proposal. You’ve suggested imposing a 10 percent severance tax on gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale. That’s up from zero percent under Governor Corbett of course, but that’s still about twice as much as the roughly 5 percent rate that many of your Democratic opponents are proposing. Do you have any worries that the rate might be high enough to drive gas production and related jobs to other states?

No, and by the way I’m always careful to call it a driller’s tax, so people know what the heck we’re talking about. [Laughs] This level of driller’s tax is fair, efficient, and smart. What we did is we took a long look at the actual evidence. And of course the first big point that people keep ignoring is that this is a natural resource that’s under our ground, that’s beneath our soil. People cannot extract it from another state. So unlike some lines of work, where you could say, “We’ll just take this business and move it elsewhere,” the fact is we have one of the largest deposits of natural gas, Marcellus Shale, in the world. We also have a huge cost advantage, in terms of transportation, to a very large fraction of the user population, to the customers, in the country. And I, as a business leader, am able to bring real logic to this, real business logic, and I also have the bona fides to make the case logically on a bipartisan basis to the legislature.

We are hearing this week that the Philly school district is moving to impose new work rules on teachers. Seniority is going to be much less a determining factor when schools decide staffing. That has angered the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, as you can imagine. The reason I’m putting this question to you: You’ve expressed your commitment to public schools, you’ve expressed your commitments to unions that have collective bargaining rights, and in fact you have the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Education Association. Something has to give here, and as governor your appointments to the School Reform Commission would likely decide the issue. So which side do you take?

I think if you brought in a governor who said, you know, “I’m an invest-and-innovate oriented governor. We’re finding sustainable revenue streams, but on a bipartisan basis we need you to bend, not break, on some of your work rules in Philadelphia.” I think we could come to some very reasonable conclusions. I always like to highlight that there’s been a lot of compromise already, at the low end of the spectrum, from the maintenance workers, for example, who took essentially a 15 percent pay cut in previous negotiations.

So I believe that having talked not with dozens, but with hundreds upon hundreds of education professionals, not just teachers but education support professionals, people are willing to compromise if the governors and others earn trust and provide reliable revenue streams for the future. So once we show that we’re willing to do that, and that we have a means to do that, we can have a more reasonable conversation around these matters.

Is the SRC wrong to bypass the collective bargaining process on that, then?

I’ve got grave reservations about the SRC at this point. I understand why it was put into place to begin with, but I find that the lack of local control and the lack of accountability very disturbing. Right now, the average voter in Philadelphia doesn’t know whom to hold accountable. They feel like they can’t hold their mayor or their city council or their governor fully accountable for this. So I just, in general, think that we want to find a way to repeal and replace the SRC.

You put cities at the heart of your economic development plans. You say you want to, and I’m quoting here, “invest in Pennsylvania’s struggling cities to make them centers of commerce, culture, recreation, and safe places to live.” That probably perks up the ears of a lot of Philadelphians. Using this city as an example, where and how do you propose to invest and how will jobs be created as a result?

First of all you want to take a look at green development, things like green roofs. If you said, in the long run, we can increase property values, improve the quality of life, and decrease water runoff in general, with more green economic development, you find the revenue to invest in those things.

I think it’s reasonable to have as one of the deal terms for some of these investments around building projects, that a certain fraction of the people you’re employing need to be returning citizens, people who have spent time in jail, but who have given every sign that they’re not violent and that they want to be good citizens. Because we have to fight sort of perennial poverty in some communities. Let’s get you a job, and let’s be sure we do it in that first year when 33 percent of the recidivism happens. There are ways of really focusing attention on that.

Let’s talk a little bit more about jobs. You do say that you want to help new businesses get started here and you also wanna attract out-of-state companies to Pennsylvania. Yet you also want to end big tax breaks for big companies that are doing pretty well already. Without those breaks, how do you incentivize companies to come here and grow here?

Well first you pull back on the breaks that have nothing whatsoever to do with job creation.

Those of us who’ve run a lot of businesses know that when it comes to entrepreneurialism, young dogs hunt, old dogs beg. So the young dogs are out there working hard, trying to create jobs, trying to find customers. It’s the big, stodgy, old companies that simply are trying to get a subsidy essentially in exchange for political support. Not for job creation, that we need to address.

What we should be doing is plugging those loopholes and instead, either investing directly or creating tax incentives like Keystone Opportunity Zone-type things for example up in Allentown, what they call the NIZ — the Neighborhood Investment Zone. You also, frankly, need a disciplined negotiator at the top of the process. Because there come times where you say, ‘this is too expensive. We will not bid this much for that number of jobs.” I would be much more oriented around smaller, younger, faster-growing companies. I would have much more of an acid test and I would engage much more openly and vigorously in the quest for evidence about what the job creation was, and we would have tests that would allow us to withdraw the tax incentives or investments if the jobs aren’t being created.

 The other candidates have publicly discussed their support of tighter gun regulations, but you’re the only one, as far as I can tell, whose website seems to go into some detail on the issue. You would require background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and online. You would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, and you would lobby the federal government to reinstitute the ban on assault guns. Can a candidate win a statewide race in Pennsylvania with those kinds of positions?

The short answer is yes. Governor Rendell did.

The longer answer I think involves sort of a pragmatic and sympathetic approach. I know we’re in the Philadelphia media market, but I want to be clear. I have run statewide several times, I have friends across the Commonwealth, I have enjoyed being invited into homes that have gun lockers right next-door to the front door, where people like to celebrate on the weekends by going to gun raffles. Where a rite of becoming an adult includes hunting for both girls and boys. And you know something? I admire the lifestyle a lot of these people are building. They are getting out into the woods, they’re building traditions, I have a lot of respect for that.

But my point is there are on the table a few common sense reforms that will help people, that will protect people, that will save lives. That won’t impinge, not even a little, not an inch on the lives of law-abiding gun owners who don’t have bad intentions. And it’s that cross-cultural conversation that we need to engage in respectfully.

What makes you a different and better candidate than other Democrats, and what makes you a different and better candidate than Tom Corbett?

I think I’m different and better than other candidates in that I’m best built to defeat and evict Tom Corbett.

I mean, I had the high privilege, not just of making some good money as a business leader and an entrepreneur, but of working in many different industries, in many contexts and cultures and that will give me an unusually good feeling for how to invest in job creation and also, frankly, how to build a consensus across the aisle and in every corner of the commonwealth. I think people when they look at our actual ideas are going to see that they’re bolder and more promising and that I have the business background to be able to back them up and build a consensus around them.

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