Gov. Tom Corbett mounted a defense of the cuts in education spending and other facets of his proposed state budget during a tour of a Clairton manufacturing plant Thursday, saying tough decisions were needed to stanch Pennsylvania's red ink, and the state's residents and school districts "need to face the reality of life."
"Nobody, including myself, wants to just go in there and cut. It's not pleasant. But my job is to make the hard decisions," he said.
School districts, such as nearby Clairton and Duquesne, struggling with deep budget holes face tough decisions as well.
"We're going to work with school districts and see what they can do, but frankly I think school districts around the state are going to have to start looking at can they continue to exist, that there should be a consolidation or a merger somewhere," Mr. Corbett told reporters.
"We need to face the reality of life."
Calling his budget talk with employees at the Kurt J. Lesker Co. "a lesson," the onetime schoolteacher used a series of analogies to hammer home the state's yawning $4.2 billion gap between spending and revenues, and responding to polls showing his popularity spiking down.
"We didn't control our spending" during the Rendell administration, he said. "If all of you at home took a 20 percent or a 10 percent reduction in salary you'd have to say, where am I going to spend my money? Am I going to go out on that extra dinner date? Am I going to buy that car this year?"
The governor would not address moves by his administration to cut state salaries of some unionized state workers by 4 percent for two years, or suggestions that he or legislators cut their pay too.
He defended his budget's $1 billion cut in basic education cuts, saying schools were relying too heavily on federal stimulus money and his plan returned them to pre-stimulus levels.
"What we don't have this year is access to federal dollars. The federal money's been cut off," the governor said, gesturing to a large education spending chart his aides brought to the high-tech vacuum plant. School districts "should have known -- and they were told -- that that wouldn't be there. It's not coming back."
He also continued his no-tax pledge on Marcellus Shale drilling operations, saying it was necessary to help grow and attract the natural gas industry to the state, but repeated that he was open to imposing some kind of industry impact fee for local municipalities. Those fees could go beyond repairing roads and infrastructure, he said, adding his Marcellus Shale Commission would study other local needs.
"There is an impact, I realize that ... I want to see the communities protected and the impact is not just roads. It can be schools [if] schools are suddenly growing in an area, the impact can be to the social services network. Let's take a look at it," he said.
Mr. Corbett -- who while in town was attending the Pirates' first home game as a guest of team ownership -- also responded to polls showing his popularity was going down just three months after taking office.
"I got into this race last year recognizing this was going to be a very difficult job. I got into this race with the support of people that we were going to change the culture and the practices of Harrisburg. When you make change, people react to it, some positively, some negatively. They're reacting to a very difficult budget proposal. We'll worry about that reaction, if it continues, way down the road."
Tim McNulty: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1581. First Published April 8, 2011 4:00 AM