Trailing by double-digits in the polls entering the month of June, Tom Corbett needed to hit a walk-off homerun on the 2014-15 budget to have any real chance at re-election in the fall. What we got instead from the Governor resembled something more like a three pitch strikeout:
June 2nd– Governor Corbett makes it known that he wants to balance a budget with spending cuts and one-time transfers, and that his two biggest priorities are pension reform and liquor privatization
June 4th– Corbett endorses the flawed Tobash “hybrid” pension reform plan which does nothing to fill the $1.5 billion budget gap
June 10th– In an interview with reporters, Corbett says that if there is pension reform, he will consider tax increases to fill the budget gap.
“If we can’t get pensions done, I’m not open to anything,” he said. “They’ve got to move on it.”
June 17th– Corbett tells reporters his is prepared to stay past the June 30th budget deadline, if legislators do not reform pensions. He also states that he will not support tax increases until something meaningful is done with “cost-drivers” like pensions.
June 19th– Corbett’s budget secretary Charles Zogby gives an interview in which he states that all options are still on the table, while blaming Ed Rendell for the current budget mess
June 26th– With the GOP fractured over the Tobash plan, Corbett holds a press conference continuing to urge the Republican-controlled legislature to pass meaningful pension reform
June 29th– With the budget deadline a day away, Corbett links the Philadelphia cigarette tax to a positive pension reform vote from Philly Democrats, further alienating himself from the City of Brotherly Love
“If there is a positive pension reform vote, there will be a cigarette tax for Philadelphia. It’s in their hands.”
June 30th– The legislature passes a $29.1 billion spending plan which does not raise taxes, and it makes its way to Corbett’s desk for his signature in time to meet the midnight budget deadline. Corbett refuses to sign it, instead continuing to lobby for pension reform from the members of his own party who control the General Assembly
July 2nd– Corbett holds a press conference where he gives a budget update that rivals Seinfeld as the best programming about “nothing” on cable. He is still reviewing and considering the document
July 10th– After ten days of review, Corbett finally signs the budget, but exercises his line-item veto on $65 million in General Assembly funding and $7.2 million in legislative-designated spending, essentially declaring war on the legislature.
So to recap, before the month of June, Governor Corbett wanted to deliver an on-time budget, which did not raise taxes, and satisfied his two priorities of liquor privatization and pension reform. However, with a legislature with GOP majorities in both chambers, he delivered on exactly one of his four main goals, by hashing together a spending plan that will likely force Pennsylvania into an even bigger budget deficit next June.
What are most puzzling to me are Corbett’s actions at the very end of the budget process. Why not meet the budget deadline and run on the platform of delivering four on-time budgets to Pennsylvania? By waiting as long as he did to sign the budget, the Governor did nothing except break his on-time budget promise and piss of the entire General Assembly by throwing them under the bus for the lack of pension reform.
A Governor must be a leader and find a way to deliver on his priorities, even when he meets resistance from a legislature comprised of his putative allies. Instead of leadership, Tom Corbett’s actions throughout the budget process show a lack of awareness and an inability to govern or even communicate effectively with members of his political party or his voters.
The Governor has consistently said that he “didn’t come to Harrisburg to make friends,” which has become evident as members of the legislature from both parties have ripped him for his leadership throughout the budget process. By putting himself into this war with the General Assembly, Corbett has positioned himself to run against Harrisburg in the November elections as an “outsider” as he did in 2010. He will the blame the political system for his lack of accomplishments during this budget, as well as Ed Rendell for Pennsylvania’s budget crisis, and urge the people of the Commonwealth to give him four more years in office to enact his priorities.
Although the “outsider” strategy may have worked in the last election, the label hardly makes sense for a man who has held the most powerful job in Pennsylvania politics for four years, and whose party enjoys majorities in both houses of the legislature. Corbett can run against Harrisburg and the corruption within the system, but at this point, he is part of it.
Besides, if an “outsider” can’t deliver on meaningful reform by cooperating with his party in the legislature, rather than spurning them, maybe this “outsider” wasn’t the right man for the job in the first place. For the people of Pennsylvania, it has become evident that Tom Corbett is part of the problem, no matter how much he will try and distance himself from it.