Inquirer Editorial: Grading Corbett's first year: No-tax pledge hurts state

Gov. Corbett finished his first term with mixed reviews about the year.
Gov. Corbett finished his first term with mixed reviews about the year. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff photographer)

No-tax pledge hurts the state

Posted: January 09, 2012

With a first-year record like Gov. Corbett's, it's a good thing he still has three more years to go. Or maybe not.

Another three years could give Corbett time to make some progress, at least, toward pressing issues facing the state - like fixing roads and bridges, or making natural-gas drillers pay their fair share.

There even may be time to do something about handgun violence that tragically ends hundreds of Pennsylvanians' lives annually (were the governor not such a gun-rights stalwart).

At the same time, there could be ample time in a first-term administration for more mischief and wrongheaded policy pushes.

That could mean further energy wasted on the governor's top-of-agenda school voucher plan, or a poll-tax-like mandate that voters must produce government-issued photo ID.

With a new state budget deficit of $500 million looming, more painful spending cuts seem assured because of Corbett's unworkable no-tax pledge.

From this point then, the hope is that Corbett focuses laser-like on the real priorities, while finally breaking free from his ideological straitjacket on taxes.

Atop the agenda should be those two big-ticket items that eluded Corbett last year:

Finding the projected $3.5 billion that is needed yearly to repair Pennsylvania's more than 5,000 structurally deficient bridges, as well as crumbling highways.

And finally levying a fair extraction tax on Marcellus Shale gas exploration while improving environmental oversight, as done in other drilling states.

Both issues will require more leadership from the governor, especially since both could bring in additional revenue that might take some of the pressure off other areas of the state budget.

While the hallmark of Corbett's first year has been the on-time balancing of the budget without a tax increase, it has come at the price of cuts to education and the social-welfare safety net.

There are fewer poor children and working-poor adults with health insurance today, school districts have had to cut staff, and universities boosted tuition, which made a college education less affordable for Pennsylvania's children - all thanks to Corbett.

Other policies backed by Corbett and the Republican-led state legislature mean:

Women seeking to end a pregnancy could face greater obstacles to a safe abortion.

Business-friendly tort reforms could deny consumers their day in court.

And every citizen has greater reason to fear flying bullets since legal gun owners were given expanded rights to shoot in defense outside their homes.

With the new year, though, Pennsylvania has a governor regarded favorably for what his supporters describe as "calm leadership." He offers a reassuring presence, demonstrated most clearly by the impressive preparations for Hurricane Irene. And, yes, Corbett's watch finally brought motorists a texting-and-driving ban.

Yet the fine print on troubling social policies, major initiatives left hanging, and a no-tax pledge that handicaps the state means this governor still has a mighty long way to go before crafting a worthy legacy.

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