Corbett sworn in as Pennsylvania's 46th governor


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HARRISBURG -- Lou and Jane Newbert, a retired couple from Indiana Township, braved a couple inches of snow and a cold, steady drizzle Tuesday to see their friend, Tom Corbett, inaugurated as Pennsylvania's 46th governor.

It wasn't hard to pick Lou out as a Pittsburgh guy, since he was wearing a black-and-gold Steelers jacket and a Pirates ball cap.

"We came here late Monday because we heard it was going to snow," said Mr. Newbert, a former construction firm owner who said he's known the new governor, the former attorney general, for 15 years. They live about 15 miles apart -- Corbett hails from adjacent Shaler.

With Republican Mr. Corbett at the helm of state government, "You'll see some of the biggest changes you've seen in years," he predicted, Jane nodding in agreement. "There's too much red tape for small businesses. We need to see industry coming back to the state, and the state made sound financially, and we need to sell the state liquor stores" to private owners.

The Newberts were among a couple hundred people who sat on cold, wet chairs and benches set up temporarily outside the Capitol's east wing. Despite the raw conditions, Mr. Corbett didn't wear a hat as he was sworn in by state Chief Justice Ronald Castille.

Mr. Corbett did wear a black overcoat for the ceremony, something he wasn't wearing earlier Tuesday morning when he and his wife, Susan, walked to Mass at a Catholic church near the Capitol.

The governor and his staff decided to stick with plans for an outside inauguration ceremony even though temperatures were just above freezing and the overnight snow had turned to a cold morning rain.

Allegheny County Republican chairman Jim Roddey, referring to a recent, widely quoted remark by outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, praised the decision to stick with the outdoor ceremony, saying, "It shows that Republicans aren't wussies."

Along the same lines, incoming House Speaker Sam Smith of Punxsutawney joked that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell "asked us to postpone the ceremony for a couple days, but we said no." It was the NFL's decision to postpone a recent game in Philadelphia because of snow that raised Mr. Rendell's ire about Americans becoming "wussies."

Also present were three former Republican governors, Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, and Democrat Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia, whom Mr. Corbett is succeeding.

Mr. Ridge, who picked Mr. Corbett to be attorney general in 1995-96, said Mr. Corbett was the guy Pennsylvania needs for these difficult economic times. The deficit for the state budget that starts July 1 is forecast in the range of $3 billion to $5 billion, out of a total spending package of about $27 billion.

Mr. Corbett has ruled out tax increases as a way to erase the red ink. That leaves sharp spending cuts, or the sale of state assets, such as the liquor stores, as the only major ways to balance the budget.

Mr. Ridge said Mr. Corbett realized "that every penny and every dime the government has belongs to the people, the people who go to work every day," and therefore the state must live within its means and reduce spending.

In strong agreement were a Fayette County couple, Albert and Belinda Burns, who also drove here for the ceremony.

Mr. Burns said Mr. Corbett "will bring honesty and integrity to the governor's office. The office will be turned back over to the people, and their wishes will be heard. We have to get spending under control."

Democratic lawyer Clifford Levine of Pittsburgh, a former law partner with Mr. Corbett who said they "drank coffee and discussed the day's political events for years," said Mr. Corbett was "conscientious, a straight shooter and has a lot of integrity. He has some difficult tasks ahead in terms of balancing the [next state] budget."

Some Republicans want to reduce state funds for Philadelphia, which has benefited considerably under Mr. Rendell, especially with education and development funds.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter came here Tuesday and said he was sure Mr. Corbett would be fair with his city. The state faces severe financial problems, but "geography is the least of our problems," he said. "Fragile social service networks, affecting seniors and children, are all across Pennsylvania, not just Philadelphia."

Mr. Corbett's 15-minute speech was general in nature, and he didn't say much about his priorities as governor. He will give his 2011-12 budget speech in early March.

But he often talks about making a sharp reduction in state spending and refusing to raise state taxes; has expressed interest in privatizing the 620-store state liquor control system, which has existed since the 1930s; and wants to change the way education is provided, including pushing for tuition vouchers for students in public school districts that perform poorly.

"We must be competitive with other nations in regard to education," he said in the speech. "We must enhance innovation, competition and choice in our education system."

This idea has drawn praise from advocates of charter and cyber schools but anxiety from public school teacher unions.

A few more priorities were outlined by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the former Bucks County commissioner, who was sworn into office an hour earlier. Some observers speculated Mr. Cawley might become the point man for administration policy, attracting the brickbats that normally would be thrown at the governor.

"Make no mistake -- jobs are our No. 1 priority," Mr. Cawley said. "We will send a message that Pennsylvania is open for business."

He mentioned the huge potential for job creation in the state's vast underground areas of Marcellus Shale, which holds much natural gas. "As Pennsylvania did with the Drake oil well in 1859, we have the same potential today" with gas from shale, he said.

But for the benefit of environmentalists who worry that Republicans are too cozy with the gas drilling industry, he added, "We can and will be good stewards of the environment and good protectors of people's health, safety and welfare."

But that didn't stop several dozen environmentalists from staging a noisy demonstration in Soldier's Grove, a couple hundred feet from the Corbett swearing-in ceremony. Such critics claim Mr. Corbett is too close to the gas drilling industry and have noted it gave him almost $1 million in campaign funds. They chanted loudly that he should do more to protect water supplies from chemicals associated with drilling into shale.

Mr. Cawley also vowed there would be a "less intrusive state government that operates within its means, thus precluding any call for higher taxes."


Tom Barnes: tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 717-623-1238.


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