John Baer: Time's running out on Corbett's platform

Posted: October 31, 2011

LOOKS LIKE there's a pretty fair chance that none of the major issues pending in the Legislature, including a couple of Gov. Corbett's campaign promises, will pass before the end of the year.

This includes school vouchers, liquor privatization, fees on drilling for Marcellus Shale and new funding for transportation needs.

After today, the House has only 14 scheduled session days, the Senate only 10.

Because the issues in question are complex and contentious, there's a growing sense that final passage of any is a heavy lift. Some sort of shale fee might have the best chance, but even that is iffy.

Corbett's fault for his methodic, prosecutorial, build-a-case style? The usual legislative ineptitude? Some combination of both?

I'm thinking yes, yes and yes. I'm also thinking we're about to see one of Harrisburg's favorite pastimes, the partisan finger-pointing blame game.

What, you say? All parties - House, Senate, governor - are of the same party?

You're right. But this is Pennsylvania, where pettiness and procrastination always outweigh progress.

For example, the popular issue (and Corbett campaign pledge) of getting the state out of the booze business is caught in a crossfire between Republican leaders.

Senate President Joe Scarnati, of rural Jefferson County, generally supports the issue but voiced concerns over how country folk fare under a private system, and let it be known that shale, not liquor, is his priority.

House GOP boss and privatization sponsor Mike Turzai, of Pittsburgh, popped a cork.

For reasons only he and his analyst understand, Turzai (just weeks, I'm told, after Scarnati headlined a fundraiser for him) called Scarnati an "old-school politician" used to making deals with Ed Rendell.

This, in GOP circles, is tantamount to Turzai calling Scarnati a spawn of Satan.

Turzai fueled flames further by saying of Scarnati, "He likes to spend money, he likes to borrow money and he's not afraid to increase taxes."

Saints preserve us!

I figure, even if the House passes Turzai's bill, Scarnati might burn it.

School vouchers, the governor's top fall priority (another campaign pledge), passed the Senate last week. But since the House is as functional as the day room in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, many see no vouchers under Corbett's Christmas tree.

Perhaps Nurse Ratched can offer medication.

Funding to fix 5,000-plus dangerous bridges and 8,000-plus miles of bad roads crashed when Corbett himself said now's not the time to increase license or vehicle-registration fees.

(A gas-tax hike - like GOP Govs. Thornburgh and Ridge implemented - is not in the picture because of Corbett's no-tax pledge.)

Some say Corbett's missing a window on transportation because lawmakers will be less inclined to raise fees next year while running for re-election.

I don't suggest that any of this damages Corbett politically. The current statewide atmosphere favors those who govern least. And he got an on-time budget without new taxes, as he promised.

As long as there are no collapsed bridges or buckled highways with injuries or deaths, the Guv's OK, for now, whether other big-ticket items hit his desk or not.

Plus, as Corbett press secretary Kevin Harley notes, "It's really not much of a concern, because the legislative session isn't over until November 30, 2012."

I'd add that the only deadline for Corbett campaign promises is three years away.

Also, when you think about it, the largest full-time Legislature in America might only be keeping a pace with which its constituents have become comfortable.

For no matter who our leaders are, we remain the Land of Low Expectations.


For recent columns, go to

philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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