John Baer: 2 big silver linings in Corbett's re-election playbook

Posted: February 12, 2013

THERE ARE SILVER linings in Gov. Corbett's playbook.

Namely, he has a new/old player on his side, and Pennsylvania is Pennsylvania.

Allow me to explain.

Forget for a moment Corbett's 26 percent approval rating. Polls are snapshots. It's a long way to 2014. Incumbents not named Rick Santorum are hard to unseat.

And, critically for Corbett, Pennsylvania is "The Land of Low Expectations."

It's a place where pols call the passing of an annual budget on time an "achievement."

So, line up Corbett's big-ticket stuff (pensions, booze, transportation funding), add the June 30 budget deadline and ask, honestly, what do you expect?

Real progress? Real solutions?

Please.

You expect - everybody expects - either far less than that or nothing at all.

We're programmed to accept the same. If there's movement, it's incremental. If there isn't, our expectations are met.

The pension crisis was years in the making. Nobody has the guts to really fix it. But Corbett's stop-the-bleeding tinkering to reduce costs for new hires can be sold as progress.

Then Corbett can blame the Legislature, which he ran against in 2010, for not doing more because it's protecting its own pensions.

(Like that won't happen.)

Selling state stores has been tried for decades. Corbett can settle for freeing up wine and beer and keeping liquor under state control.

That would be a win: some privatization to appease conservative philosophy without totally alienating unions or rural lawmakers.

This gets us to increased funding for roads, bridges and mass transit - something supported by 82 percent of registered voters.

It's bipartisan. It creates jobs. It's a core function of government. It enhances public safety. And Corbett can get it, even if it means higher gasoline prices.

How? By using his new/old player.

On Feb. 19, Brad Mallory, the state Department of Transportation secretary under Gov. Tom Ridge, returns to PennDOT as deputy secretary for administration, the No. 2 post in the department.

Mallory was chief executive of Michael Baker Corp., a huge Pittsburgh-based engineering and construction company. He left Baker in December at the request of the company's board, but with a severance package worth more than $1.1 million.

No doubt Democrats will carp about Mallory. Why was he bumped by Baker? Isn't the severance a problem? (Mallory tells me that there simply was "a falling- out" with the board and that he'll recuse himself from any discussion of Baker contracts.)

But Mallory is a terrific asset for Corbett.

Mallory was instrumental in getting the last gas-tax increase through the Legislature. He helped rope votes by visiting lawmakers in their offices and bringing maps to show what the tax could pay for in their districts.

Getting anything done in politics is usually a matter of who gets what.

That last gas-tax hike was in the spring of 1997, in the third year of the first term of the last governor pegged "One-Term Tom."

Democratic leaders (if you can believe it) opposed the tax. They called it "Tom's tax." Then-House Democratic Leader (now jailed) Bill DeWeese condemned it. Then-Senate Democratic Leader (now jailed) Bob Mellow called it "a fleecing."

But Tom Ridge got a 3.5-cent-per-gallon tax increase. SEPTA, as part of a deal for Philly voters to pass it, got $92.6 million in additional funding. And Ridge, who was fond of saying, "Good roads are good politics," was re-elected the following year.

So, while clouds hang over Corbett, including a few that could cause real storms - NCAA lawsuit, attorney general's investigation of Sandusky case, lottery-privatization effort - there are, at least right now, silver linings in his playbook.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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