With Governor Tom Corbett's first term approaching the halfway point, the editorial pages are settling in on a theme for their assessments of the administration's performance over the last year: not a lot of action on important issues.
There is no question the Corbett administration missed key opportunities to close corporate tax loopholes and enact a modest drilling tax to help avert some of the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers and other education support professionals that occurred last year. Similarly, the administration took no action on infrastructure at a time when construction prices and the cost of borrowing are at historic lows.
These failures are key reasons why unemployment today in Pennsylvania is higher than it should be. And, as time passes, the cost of infrastructure repairs is only going up. Hopefully, in the next two years, we will see more energy directed at governing rather than holding the line on campaign promises made well before there was a full appreciation of the challenges we collectively face.
On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Daily News' John Baer summed up the last two years of the Corbett Administration this way:
But our 8.1 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate and that of 30 other states, including Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.
And while rising pension costs and risky road and bridge problems (each a multibillion dollar issue) go unattended, lots of energy is spent on stuff with little impact on the greater needs or fiscal well-being of the commonwealth.
The Legislature passed and Corbett signed, for example, new laws extending barroom happy hours and the Castle Doctrine (a great combo!) and requiring voter ID to fight fraud — all despite scant evidence of limited access to cocktails, pressing needs to shoot more people or hijacked elections.
Likewise, efforts to privatize liquor sales and the state lottery invite questions about whether such initiatives are real priorities for state citizens and/or game-changing pluses for state finances.
Corbett's overall leadership on policy is, to date, nonexistent; and if there is an overall policy it appears limited to searching for ways not to spend money....
It is, rather, a midway assessment of a first term marked more by fixing stuff that ain't broke than by facing problems with proactive leadership.
On Wednesday, the Harrisburg Patriot-News editorial board picked up on Baer's theme with a focus on public pensions:
It's a bird. It’s a plane. It’s ... another government report telling Pennsylvanians what they already know: We have $41 billion in public pension obligations, and it’s scary.
If Gov. Tom Corbett is serious about tackling this key issue, he should put out real solutions, not more reports detailing the problem.
The editorial goes on to suggest one way forward is a more robust tax on Marcellus shale drilling:
Yet for all there is to celebrate about the industry, many Pennsylvanians feel the drillers are not paying their fair share. They’re right. The so-called “impact fee” that was enacted in January is arguably the lowest in the nation on this kind of drilling.
No one wants to tax drillers away, but there’s a “Goldilocks tax,” and Pennsylvania is well below that. When the impact fee was passed last year, various forecasters projected that the state left $24 billion to $48 billion on the table by not passing a higher tax. Imagine what that money would do if it went to pay off the state’s pension obligation.