Corbett faces trouble from his own party

Legislators annoyed by, but not scared by, Gov.’s budget line-item veto

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
TimesPoliticsUnusual-250x300Yogi Berra, the baseball legend and armchair philosopher once said, “when you get to a fork in the road, take it.”

Based on his action last week, Gov. Tom Corbett appears not to have taken this sage advice — and crashed right into the Burma Shave billboard located at the fork in the road, instead, prompting furor from fellow Republicans and uproarious laughter from Democrats, who may be missing the irony of Republicans acting like the state’s Democrats have for a generation or more.

Instead of meekly signing the budget, or boldly vetoing it and demanding that the state legislature be called back into session to address public pension reform, Corbett line-item vetoed $65 million in funding for the General Assembly — which was sitting on a $150 million surplus — and another $7.2 million in assembly funds. Small potatoes in a $29.1 billion budget — and no demand for legislators to return to Harrisburg before Labor Day, just a suggestion that they needed to address pension reform.

A visibly angry Corbett ripped into his fellow Republicans in the legislature, when he announced his decision last week.

“They filled the budget with discretionary spending and then refused to deal with the biggest fiscal challenge facing Pennsylvania: our unsustainable public pension system,” Corbett said during a press conference last week. “For these reasons, I am forcing mutual sacrifice with the General Assembly through the governor’s ability to line-item veto and hold spending in budgetary reserve.”

Members of the legislature — including members of the Chester County GOP delegation — were nonplussed by the governor’s move:

“While I agree that reform of our public pension systems in Pennsylvania is needed, this veto tactic is not the way to achieve it.  The only people who will suffer in this ping-pong game of politics are taxpayers,” said Rep. Duane Milne (R-167). “The veto will impact a variety of community projects that benefit many Pennsylvanians, include certain public facility enhancements, education programs, job training initiatives, needed upkeep for parks and recreation areas, and some hospital access for low income individuals. I am calling on all concerned to cooperate more and reject the gridlock of politics as usual.”

State Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9, who represents large portions of the county and is the Majority Leader) questioned whether Corbett’s move was even legal under the state constitution:

“Today the Governor also announced that he has cut, eliminated or placed in budgetary reserves several state programs directly, and through the unprecedented, and likely unconstitutional step of a line item veto to sections of the Fiscal Code bill,” Pileggi said in a statement. “It is horribly concerning that the Governor has elected to cut or withhold funds for items that include hospital programs for low income individuals, educational programs across the state, arts & cultural programs, job training programs & biotechnology research programs.

“The state budget process is not a game to be played and vital government programs should never be placed in jeopardy.  Putting the needs of Pennsylvania residents ahead of politics has always been, and continues to be our top priority.”

Ow. And this from your own party. That should be helpful when it comes to the fall elections.

Of course, I thought Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf was going to rupture his spleen evading the sharp questioning of Harrisburg Patriot-News Editorial Page Editor John Micek during a televised presser — asking exactly how he’d deal with the situation. Wolf tried to dance around the question by suggested he would never find himself in Corbett’s shoes because he would actually work with the legislature, but was evasive when it came to pensions and reform.

Corbett missed an opportunity to do something bold — and to reign in the legislature, which has been unable to deliver on virtually any of his priorities. It is hard to see a path to victory in November for him now — and the sharp rebukes of him by fellow Republicans, just months before an election signal they’ve pretty much written him off and are more interested in saving their own seats and majorities — which may be a concern if Corbett’s continuing unpopularity drives down GOP turnout.

Two other local legislators may have even more to worry about. Milne and Dan Truitt (R-156) were the lone local legislators to vote against the Philadelphia cigarette tax hike, intended to help fund the city’s beleaguered schools — John Lawrence (R-13), the only other Chester County legislator to vote “no” doesn’t seem to be as targeted right now.

This fact, keeping in mind there were some 175 votes for the measure in the house, including a number of very conservative Republicans, is apparently not lost on a group of very angry Philly parents who plan to raise money and work to support Democrats Sandra Snyder (the Democrat running against Truitt) and Anne Crowley (the Democrat running against Milne) now because of the vote.

With both already facing, shall we say, interesting races — Truitt because his district became a lot more Democrat friendly in the last redistricting, while Milne faced an in-party challenge during primary season and may still not be generating a lot of enthusiasm among GOP voters — this could, potentially, hurt. That having been said, we’ve heard of and seen a number of Philly-based initiatives to help support suburban Democrats end up failing miserably. It will be interesting to see if this has an impact.

Both will get a shot to change their vote — because of changes the state Senate made to the bill, it will have to go to back to the house for a second vote, but with the changes the Senate made, it may fail.

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