It’s been a while since Pennsylvania had a Republican governor and a Republican dominated legislature. The state’s budget crisis handed the newly elected GOP Governor Tom Corbett a golden opportunity to solidify his party’s leadership in the state house, and perhaps push Pennsylvania, a key swing state with lots of electoral votes, toward a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. After yesterday’s budget proposal speech, though, the opportunity might very well turn out to be a missed one, and if the early reactions are an indication of what’s happening in the state politically, Corbett may have just guaranteed that he will be a one term governor.
Somehow, Corbett had to find a way to slash something like $4 billion from the state budget. Yesterday, in announcing his initial budget proposal, few recipients of state funding escaped the budget cutting axe. Education took a hit, with colleges and universities seeing a large percentage of their state funding evaporate, and the state’s public education system also got whacked and trimmed, back to 2008 levels. State employees were chided for even thinking that they deserved a raise during a major recession and budget crisis, and were told to tighten their belts, pay more for health insurance on a smaller salary, and be grateful that they still had a job.
Unfortunately, the austerity and the wielding of a budget cutting axe didn’t extend to the governor’s office. While other state employees will feel the pinch, those lucky enough to be GOP insiders in the governor’s office got substantial raises, more money than former Governor Rendell paid them by an average of $13,000 per year per employee. And these are state workers who don’t have to pay a penny for their health insurance benefits, either.
Nor did Corbett cut his own salary. Oh, there was some talk about donating the difference to charity, but big deal on that, since he gets a tax credit for doing it. So this looks like exactly what it is, and there aren’t many Pennsylvania voters who are missing this note. In the face of all the governor has proposed, this just doesn’t look good, and a lot of voters are asking why.
It’s also hard to tell, at this point, whether the cuts are for real, or whether this is a tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations that will ride the back of the ordinary citizen. There’s no doubt that big business, right up to the companies lining up to tap and market Pennsylvania’s natural gas reserves, escaped tax liability. It’s that GOP tendency to make sure that business gets advantages to create jobs, even though they had the same advantage during the Bush administration and didn’t create jobs then. Will it do so now? Hard to say, though I tend to think that the bigger the company, the more tempted they will be to hoard their resoures.
The budget needs to be cut, that’s for sure. I’m not sure this is the best way to do it.