If House plan is the final budget, GOP could face electoral doom in November
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
It looks like Gov. Tom Corbett could be winning his budget battle, but could be losing the war — and maybe a handful of state legislative seats in Chester County. We may have a better sense how bad the mess will be once a state budget is passed, maybe even by Monday.
The House of Representatives passed a budget Thursday with no tax on shale extraction, no additional revenue of any kind, and no answer for the public pension mess and assumes some $385 million in extra money from liquor privatization, despite there being no plan for doing with enough votes to pass the state Senate. It doesn’t appear to actually account for the lower revenues coming in, either, depending on what appear to be optimistic (maybe wildly so) estimates.
While only 11 out of 50 states are seeing revenue shortfalls, Pennsylvania stands out from its neighbors with a more sluggish than regionally typical economy and revenue shortfalls falling anywhere from $1.5 to $1.7 billion, again, depending on your source.
Depending on who you talk to, it’s either a fiscally stringent budget, or one that depends on gimmicks and will crash and burn before the spring snows melt in 2015. Consider that this is a budget process entirely controlled by Republicans, and yet it appears highly likely that there won’t be a budget completed by the July 1 deadline. This is a testament to the fact that this is such an untenable budget for many legislators and a sign of increasing chaos among Harrisburg Republicans.
If the failure on liquor privatization and virtually no progress on a workable solution for the pension mess, despite Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion, are the first two, Corbett’s third strike might be the lack of extraction tax on shale gas. Pennsylvania is the only state without such a tax. Despite Corbett’s insistence that drillers were paying a lot in other taxes, according to Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, drillers are paying pretty much what they were paying before drilling started, which begs a lot of questions.
The first, of course, is why shale drillers deserve a special break, as opposed to property tax payers?
Add in the fact that Corbett has been hammered, and it appears rightly so, based on the results (or lack of them) of these sort of corporate handouts at the expense of public schools, and things look less than rosy for Corbett’s reelection prospects. One must imagine Democrat Tom Wolf struggling to figure out which issue to hit the governor on first — there could be too many to choose from.
As bad as it is for Corbett, imagine if you were an incumbent state legislator in a shaky district — say Dan Truitt in the 156th or Duane Milne in the 167th — or a GOP candidate for an open seat, Cuyler Walker in the 158th or Harry Lewis Jr. in the 74th — they have to feel, at least privately, that Corbett is a bit of a Titanic right now, and these budget moves are a bit like being tossed life preservers made from concrete.
Aside from the fact that majority of folks have identified school funding as a key issue and that a strong majority of voters in the southeast support an extraction tax (and to be honest, there’s probably a majority in both houses of the state legislature that would support a 4% extraction tax today if it could ever get to the floor for a vote), and the fact that Pennsylvania’s economy is clearly lagging both its neighbors and the national trend, these legislative candidates are stuck clinging to highly unpopular positions — even if a number of them don’t personally agree with them.
Worse, if Corbett continues down this path he could make himself so toxic by November that multitudes of Republicans refuse to vote for him — and rather than vote for Wolf, skip Election Day entirely, depressing GOP turn out and turning normally safe districts into nail biters, and turning close elections into unexpected Democratic routs.
We might know as soon as next week how the governor’s race will turn out — if the final budget looks anything like the document that the House of Representatives passed, not only will Corbett be out, but Republican control over both houses of the state legislature could be in doubt.
You’ll know there’s blood in the water when GOP legislative candidates start to move to separate themselves from Corbett, call for a shale tax, more schools funding and so on. Will it be enough to save some seats? Maybe.
But unless we see a lot change in that budget document — and we’ve certainly seen drastic, last-minute revisions in the process in past years — Corbett could be touching off an electoral tsunami so big it takes everyone down with him, from state legislators to even one or congressional candidates previously seen as unbeatable.