Pennsylvania Governor Promises ‘Day of Reckoning’

By: - March 8, 2011 12:00 am

In Ohio and Wisconsin, new governors have been greeted with thousands of angry protesters accusing them of trying to dismantle unions. Maine’s new chief executive, Paul LePage, has set off a firestorm over a proposed overhaul of the state’s environmental rules, and in Florida, Governor Rick Scott has kicked off his administration by proposing a budget with such dramatic tax cuts and spending reductions that it has alienated key members of his own party.

Amid all the buzz that the new class of Republican governors is causing, however, one big-state chief executive in their ranks has remained conspicuously silent: Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, who cruised to victory in November on a pledge similar to those made by his counterparts in Florida, Maine, Ohio and Wisconsin to sharply reduce the size of government. Since taking office in January, Corbett has shied away from the media spotlight while keeping the details of his proposed state budget tightly under wraps.

Mr. Corbett and his top aides have said virtually nothing about the budget until Monday, when they held meetings with close legislative allies who were sworn to secrecy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports . It is rare for an administration to be so tight-lipped about the budget.

That will change today, when Corbett delivers his first budget plan to lawmakers in Harrisburg. Promising that the proposal will amount to a day of reckoning , Corbett has vowed to close Pennsylvania’s estimated billion budget shortfall next fiscal year with spending cuts alone. He is one of 12 newly elected governors all of them Republican except for New York Democrat Andrew Cuomo who have formally vowed not to raise taxes, and he has gone a step further by ruling out fee increases as well. Corbett has repeatedly pointed to Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has attracted national attention for the bold budget cuts he has made, as a role model.

Indeed, the only questions that remain appear to be which areas of state spending Corbett intends to cut, and by how much. Like Ohio and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania is home to powerful public employee unions, and the governor has already promised to rein in soaring pension and other retiree costs, but he has said he will not seek to curb collective bargaining rights as his counterparts in the Midwest have done. Education and health and human services, the two largest areas of spending for Pennsylvania as for most states, are likely to see substantial cuts, too, insiders expect.

For Laura Vecsey, a political columnist with The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, the big question ahead of Corbett’s speech is how far the governor is willing to go as he seeks to burnish his conservative credentials. Just how far will Corbett carry the ball, given the handoff he’s getting from Republican governors in New Jersey, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin? Vecsey asks . In those states, free-market, pro-growth conservatives have taken their mandate’ and beaten back everything from high-speed rail funding to collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Will Corbett give Pennsylvania its own version of The Wisconsin Moment’?

Corbett’s speech will be one of the last major gubernatorial budget unveilings of the year. For Stateline ‘s schedule of all governors’ speeches so far, as well as the complete text of the addresses, visit our special section .

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