The words had barely faded from the teleprompter used by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R), during the governor’s budget proposal address before the state’s leading Democratic gubernatorial challengers responded.
Corbett on Tuesday unveiled broad details about his budget during a press conference in Harrisburg, with education the primary focus.
According to Corbett, his 2014-15 state budget that invests $12.01 billion in state funding for students in Pennsylvania’s early, basic and postsecondary education systems - representing an increase of $387 million, or 3.3 percent, over last year’s budget.
“Every child in this state should be ready to learn, ready to grow and ready to succeed,” Corbett said. “At every level, from early childhood to high school and beyond, every dollar we spend is an investment in the future of our commonwealth.”
Their reaction from the Democratic challengers– which toed the party line regarding statewide democrats’ outcries over Corbett’s education policies and his dealing with the Marcellus Shale industry – was as predictable as they were scathing.
Challenger Katie McGinty accused Corbett of “doubling down” on policies McGinty says have failed Pennsylvania Families.
“Governor Tom Corbett has continually failed Pennsylvania’s families by cutting $1 billion from public education and enacting policies that are not only preventing jobs from being created, they are killing them. Instead of recognizing the mistakes that he has made since taking office, Governor Corbett is doubling down on the policies that have hurt our families,” McGinty said. “Governor Corbett is using smoke and mirrors to try and enhance his public image in an election year, but hardworking Pennsylvanians know that it is more of the same.
“They know Pennsylvania needs a new Governor if we are going to strengthen our schools and create jobs for everyone who wants to work.”
Businessman and former Secretary of Revenue Tom Wolf said Corbett’s budget proposal – especially the line items dedicated to education – was tantamount to a desperate ploy to lure voters.
“The funding that Tom Corbett announced for education is little more than an election year gimmick. If we are going to rebuild our middle class ad strengthen our economy, we must provide every child with a high-quality education,” Wolf said via a statement released by his campaign office. “Under Tom Corbett, we have seen massive cuts to education, thousands of teachers have been forced out of the classroom, and school districts across the state have been forced to increase their class sizes.”
In the midst of the Democratic barrage, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania sought to highlight Corbett’s track record in what PA GOP officials to be a hostile political climate.
“Governor Tom Corbett unveiled a commonsense budget that will grow our economy, educate our children and build a stronger Pennsylvania. After inheriting a fiscal mess from the previous Democrat Administration, Tom Corbett eliminated a $4 billion budget deficit and invested more state funding in education than at any other point in our history. Tom Corbett brought fiscal sanity to Harrisburg, and he did it without raising taxes on Pennsylvania families,” said Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason. “Tom Corbett wants to build upon Pennsylvania’s successes to make us stronger. While President Obama and the Democrats in Washington lead our country toward a path of less jobs, higher debt and a broken health care system.
“Governor Corbett understands that good government focuses on how we invest our funds, not how we spend them,” Gleason continued, adding that Corbett’s investments have resulted in nearly 150,000 new private sector jobs. “I applaud Governor Corbett for proposing a fiscally responsible budget that will keep taxes low, create jobs and continue his strong commitment to our children. Governor Tom Corbett has put our Commonwealth on the right track, and his plan will ensure a stronger Pennsylvania for future generations.”
Still, Gleason’s words were shouted down by the cacophony of criticism coming from the field of Democratic challengers, who were able to set aside their Democratic primary campaigns to unify in their bashing of Corbett.
How long this unity lasts remain to be seen, but for now, every challenger is staying in the vein.
Challenger John Hanger, who twice served Pennsylvania governors – once as Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for Governor Bob Casey from 1993 to 1998, and then as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection in the Rendell Administration from 2008 to 2011 – said Corbett’s budget is replete with trickery.
“The Corbett solution is more budget flim-flammery,” Hanger said. “At the 11th hour of his administration, the Governor who has waged a war on public education by cutting $1 billion in public school funding, laid of teachers and support staff across the state, imposed crushing school tax hikes on property-owners, and forced programs like libraries and whole schools to close now purports to be a champion of education? I don’t think so.”
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), seen as the likely candidate to emerge from the spring’s Democratic primary and considered by many pundits as Corbett’s stiffest challenge should they meet in the fall, released a statement through her election campaign that also reminded voters of Corbett’s track record on education funding.
“Governor Corbett’s speech was another example of the failed, stale politics of Harrisburg. [Corbett] can’t hide from his record – cutting nearly a billion dollars from public education, dragging our state down to among the lowest ranked in the nation for job growth, and giving away our national resources in the Marcellus Shale,” Schwartz said. “Nothing he said would reverse that trend, and now, he wants to balance the budget on the backs of hard working Pennsylvanians. Next year’s budget speech will be very different, because Pennsylvanians are ready for a new Governor.”