John Baer: Corbett's ambitious new-year goals seem to pave way for re-election bid

Corbett: He's been working up a storm of late.
Corbett: He's been working up a storm of late.
Posted: January 24, 2013

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks can make!

As 2013 began, Sir Thomas of Corbett seemed ready to enter his third year of incumbency in the same semi-somnambulant mode he spent the first two.

Then BAM!

He sues the NCAA over Sandusky sanctions at Penn State, signs a deal to outsource management of the lottery to the Brits, promises a public-pensions fix, is set to seek $2 billion in new revenue for transportation and says he has a concrete plan to privatize the state stores.

All in three weeks.

What the heck's going on?

Well, the Republican governor, who either didn't have, or didn't follow, a plan for governing beyond "no new taxes," is now fired up.

Even some Democrats privately admit it's a plus for the guv to be out, active and engaged, more visible than the Corbett we've come to know.

But this flurry poses a few purely political questions.

The "why now?" is obvious: The 2014 election cycle is under way, and Corbett wants to be branded a leader, not a spectator.

The "why so much?" is also plain: Seek a lot, and you might get something.

But the "what's gettable?" hides in the shady corner of "who the heck can say?"

Each big-ticket item can accrue to Corbett's benefit and shake off perceived vulnerability as he heads into re-election.

So let's look at each.

His NCAA federal suit, assuming he has standing, will likely take years to litigate, but the fact that he filed it gives him props with the Penn State crowd.

(A survey this month by Public Policy Polling says 49 percent of Pennsylvania voters call themselves PSU fans and, of those, 63 percent support Corbett's lawsuit.)

The lottery deal is designed to bring in more money for senior citizens' programs. If approved by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, it can help Corbett with a large bloc of voters in the state that's fourth in the nation in percentage of older folks.

Any public-pensions fix can cut state spending in a way that most voters - OK, not state workers or teachers - will applaud.

And fixing roads and bridges in disrepair can be marketed as protecting the public by taking control of a critical issue too long ignored.

So, is this the path to a second term?

Maybe, but Corbett has to sell his new, aggressive leadership, and bold and innovative are rarely rewarded here - which is to say his stuff needs legal or legislative OK.

The NCAA suit could be tossed; the lottery deal could be delayed or dumped by a court or the attorney general; and who knows what the Legislature does with transportation and booze.

There also are more fundamental hurdles.

Career prosecutor Corbett is - unlike that prosecutor/governor in New Jersey - uncomfortable in many aspects of politics. He's neither a wonk nor a natural pol. Selling policy to the public isn't easy for him.

And although transportation funding seems the strongest item on Corbett's list, it can't be gotten without new revenue, something politically better done in a governor's first year than his third.

Reportedly, the bulk of new transportation money would come from lifting the cap on wholesale gasoline taxes, meaning somebody's going to pay more.

If this "more" is passed along to consumers already shelling out extra for Social Security and health care, one of two bad things can happen.

Corbett could be targeted as part of the reason people are paying more for government or, worse, as breaking a campaign promise.

There's time before voters really focus on Corbett. And he'll likely offer goodies for education, human services and safe schools in his budget next month.

But the big items he staked out, or plans to, are what to watch headed to 2014.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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