Corbett needs to harness his inner Hulk for this budget

Posted: June 12, 2014

I'M STEALING THIS IDEA from a friend.

I should warn you this person never lacks for thoughts that are, well, out there.

But this one has some merit.

It's aimed at helping Gov. Corbett, who, you may know, is unofficially referred to these days as Gov. Snowball in Hell.

But it also could move the state forward.

Here it is: Corbett should go politically postal. I mean like the Incredible Hulk when angry.

Forget what's past and push for a present in which things get done in Harrisburg.

He should, in short, go balls-out on his own agenda and more.

(By the way, the term "balls-out" does not refer to specific parts of male anatomy, but to old steam engines with actual weighted balls indicating speed.)

This approach dovetails with political realities statewide and in the Capitol.

Among those realities: a pending budget with a $1 billion to $2 billion hole overseen by a governor who (a) has trouble governing, (b) has a lousy relationship with a legislature of his own party and (c) at this stage, really has nothing to lose.

So here's the plan:

Forget pushing for an on-time budget with limited spending, no new general taxes and whatever favors to business and energy buddies can be had.

Instead, demand a liquor-reform bill, a pension-reform bill, Medicaid expansion and a tax on natural-gas extraction.

And - here's the key - refuse to sign a budget until those measures are adopted.

Think it through.

Such a stance demonstrates strength instead of the obstinacy commonly associated with Corbett's tenure.

The policy mix means legislative leaders in both parties get something. It means the public gets something. And none of the policies need to be drastic.

First, a modest liquor bill allowing wine and beer sales in grocery stores keeps state stores but offers the biggest change in state liquor law since 1933.

No other governor who tried succeeded.

Those who want to protect union jobs get to do so. Those who want more convenience for consumers get it. And the public says it wants such change.

A win-win-win.

Second, pension costs are mandated, enormous and growing. A change just for new employees means at least some cost containment. Current workers are not affected. New employees know what they're signing up for. And it's time public retirement benefits reflect private-sector realities.

Third, Medicaid expansion helps poor people in 26 states. Accepting it here helps an estimated 500,000 citizens. And it brings the state hundreds of millions of dollars in federal dollars at a time the state seeks revenue to fill its budget hole.

There's already some bipartisan support. A GOP-run House committee just sent an expansion bill to the floor.

Fourth, a gas-extraction tax, especially if coupled with Medicaid expansion, greatly improves state finances and pays for the expanded education funding Corbett already calls for.

It, too, has some bipartisan backing. Even the state's Independent Fiscal Office says taxes paid by drillers here are among the lowest in the nation. And enacting a tax takes a major campaign-debate issue off the table.

This won't be easy.

But I think the Senate (where the only adults in Harrisburg work) could go for all of it. And although the House hates taxes and Medicaid and wants to sell off all state stores, there's always the option of upping GOP Leader Mike Turzai's meds.

Justifying gubernatorial flips on a shale tax and Medicaid is no real problem.

Corbett already flipped on privatizing the lottery, voter ID, same-sex marriage and medical marijuana.

I don't suggest toughing out a budget to bring all these things home wins Corbett a second term. But balls-out bravado to get things done would be a welcome change from an administration that, as mentioned, really has nothing to lose.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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