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Regrets about the Governor
Written December 5, 2011


Readers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette were surprised in 2010 when the rather liberal newspaper did not endorse the Democratic candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, as it usually does.

Instead, the P-G recommended the Republican, Tom Corbett.  He follows the standard Republican philosophy:   our government should do as little as possible for us.

One of his proposals was that Pennsylvania’s politicians should get out of the business of operating the state’s liquor stores.  The P-G happened to agree with him.  The paper has long advocated selling the notoriously inefficient state stores to private enterprise, which would presumably do a better job of operating them.  So it backed Corbett, and he was in fact elected.

So far, no action has been taken toward selling the state stores.

However, transportation is a bigger problem in this state.  Needed repairs to roads and bridges are being delayed.  Pittsburgh’s Port Authority Transit is slowly dying; it phased out 22% of its bus routes last March and has announced that it will have to eliminate another 41% next year to close a $64 million deficit.  If it does, many workers will be unable to get to their jobs; other commuters will take to their cars, further clogging the highways.

Business and labor leaders agree that we need to raise more money for transportation.

Governor Corbett, as a Republican, opposes raising more money for anything.

Refusing to suggest any tax or fee increases, he instead appointed a commission to make those suggestions.  Their recommendations have been sitting on his desk since August.  I guess he’s still reviewing them.

In October, the Post-Gazette editorialized:

Six months ago, Gov. Tom Corbett put together a 40-member, well-qualified advisory group to study how to finance Pennsylvania’s transportation and transit needs.

Three months ago, his Transportation Funding Advisory Commission presented a comprehensive plan that could raise $2.7 billion through a combination of measures — lifting a cap on a tax paid by fuel wholesalers and hiking the fees for drive licenses and auto registration.

Since then, legislative leaders have been waiting to learn the governor’s reaction to the plan ... motivated by the deteriorating state of Pennsylvania’s 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, 8,000 crumbling miles of highway and a severely diminished ability to provide efficient mass transit.

That sure sounds like a crisis, yet the governor’s most recent statements suggest that he doesn’t understand why anybody would expect him to do something about it.

... Mr. Corbett said he is worried about the economy, and he’s certainly not alone in that.  But the plan offered by his own transportation commission would cost the average driver just $120 to $200 per year, or less than $17 per month.  It would put Pennsylvanians to work, performing long-needed repairs and upgrades that will cut down on wasted time and gasoline.

The governor has said, “Sure there’s a problem.  There’s been a problem there for 25 years.  Where has everybody been for 25 years?”

The better question is why isn’t Mr. Corbett eager to solve it now.

2013 update:  After two more years, he has in fact done something.

On the other hand, the governor is eager to push his pet project, a school voucher program that would allow a family to take taxpayer-provided money away from a failing public school (thus making its failings even worse) and to give the money to a private school.  Like the governor, many such private schools are Catholic.  The Post-Gazette editorialized last weekend: 

No one should be surprised that leaders in the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh want families served by its schools to push for passage of a tuition voucher bill in Harrisburg. The legislation is in the schools' interest, and it's the right of parents to speak out. ...

In October the state Senate passed a measure that would shift $5,800 to $13,900 per student away from public schools and to a student's private school. ...As the voucher debate moves to the House, this episode is a reminder that some voucher advocates are not as interested in rescuing students from failing public schools as they are in getting public funds for their private, in this case religious, schools.  This comes despite the Pennsylvania Constitution's flat assertion that “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

No child should be trapped in a failing school system, and the Legislature should fund alternatives and reforms that work.  But lawmakers must keep in mind that for some of the biggest backers of vouchers, the movement is about channeling public dollars into religious education — in opposition to the will of Pennsylvania's founders.

And don’t get me started on the governor’s obvious reluctance to charge any fees for extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, as all other states do.  You see, the out-of-state energy companies helped finance his campaign.

Grumble, grumble.  Anybody for a regime change?




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