Corbett for governor: After Rendell, a Republican can break with the past

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For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. In this season of decision, Pennsylvania is full of calls for change, especially concerning fiscally responsible government. Many residents of the state would direct their new governor to the purpose of establishing an administration serious about cutting spending and limiting taxes.


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Republican candidate for governor Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato discuss the issues.

The candidates for governor are two accomplished public servants from Western Pennsylvania: Attorney General Tom Corbett, the Republican, and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, the Democrat. But when it comes to the problems the winner will inherit, voters don't have the luxury of choosing an encouraging set of facts.

As Gov. Ed Rendell finishes his eighth year in Harrisburg, little about the state's situation can cheer voters as they consider his replacement. The $28 billion budget -- supposedly passed by the July 1 deadline for the first time in eight years -- was a desperate act of creative assumptions, an absurdly unbalanced balanced budget.

In their triumph of hope over expectation, lawmakers approved the budget counting on a 3.2 percent increase in state tax revenues over 12 months, this in a still-troubled economy. The budget also assumed that the Legislature would OK a severance tax on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, which the House achieved but the Senate did not.

Now Pennsylvania lurches on to a deficit next year estimated to be between $2 billion and $5 billion. Moreover, major needs in the vital areas of transportation and infrastructure go begging to the tune of $472 million, chiefly because the federal government refused to permit the tolling of Interstate 80 (an earlier budget assumption gone awry). Billions more are needed to repair Pennsylvania's crumbling roads and bridges.

In fairness, the Legislature has ownership of the budget, too, and Gov. Rendell didn't invent the national recession. While spending grew during his tenure, much of it was justifiable when the good times rolled. His wise efforts to promote childhood education and initiatives such as Growing Greener are part of his legacy as well.

But this is a different season. And with the ghosts of present and future deficits shrieking in the hallways of Harrisburg, who are you going to call? Dan Onorato, who carries the same Democratic brand? Or Tom Corbett, the Republican, who offers the best chance of a fresh approach from top to bottom?

We think that question answers itself. Our choice is Tom Corbett.

To be sure, Mr. Onorato, 49, of Brighton Heights is a good candidate and a likable man. He has been the responsible leader of Allegheny County and has looked out for the taxpayers, despite negative ads that say otherwise. He has been a reform-minded Democrat, laying off county workers so as not to raise taxes, championing the cause of row office reform. While he did impose a tax on alcoholic beverages -- and way too much has been made of that -- it was done for the good purpose of helping public transit and, by extension, all those who use it.

We also like Mr. Onorato's stance on Marcellus Shale drilling; he recognizes the great potential of the gas fields, but favors a competitive severance tax together with responsible enforcement of environmental regulations (he wants replacements for the staff reductions in the Department of Environmental Protection).

On this, Mr. Corbett, 61, of Shaler, takes the odd position that no severance tax should be applied, even though every other drilling state has one (the prosecutor in him, however, believes in coming down hard on companies that break the rules and cause pollution). Still, his severance tax stance conforms to his pledge not to raise any taxes, in the hopes of encouraging businesses and creating jobs. We think this pledge will limit his options and may fall by the wayside early in his administration, as the state's dire finances become clear. But at least it lays before the voters his intentions.

While we may disagree with Mr. Corbett on this and other issues, most notably his decision to join other states to challenge the federal health care reform, what is pivotal is the need to change the culture of Harrisburg. As it happens, Mr. Corbett already has done more on that front than perhaps anybody else in state government. His Bonusgate investigations, which netted both Republicans and Democrats, served notice on the sleazy-business-as-usual crowd that such behavior would no longer be tolerated.

This no-nonsense politician also has his enlightened and progressive side. He recognizes the benefit of early education (as does Mr. Onorato) and sees the absurdity of that relic of Prohibition, the monopolistic Liquor Control Board system, and the crying need for its privatization (which Mr. Onorato does not). If done right, this would be a way of providing a great amount of budgetary relief without raising taxes. It also would send a message in the strongest way that Pennsylvania, despite its backward reputation, is not change averse.

The Post-Gazette endorses Tom Corbett, the candidate in a season of change who we believe can break with the past for the sake of a better future.



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