Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Onorato, Allegheny County Executive, will be the Democratic nominee for governor in Pennsylvania after Tuesday's primary unless all of the polls are wrong. Onorato also is showing some signs of friskiness in the general election against Attorney General Tom Corbett. So, who is he?
The themes Onorato is running on aren't surprising. You can see them summarized in this minute-long campaign ad. He's against property tax hikes and cronyism. He's for jobs and reform. Who isn't?
But, Onorato does have a decent story to tell in this regard. He's worked well with Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, though their plans for city-county consolidation sputtered. He helped keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh with a deal on a new arena. You'll hear a lot about how he eliminated elected offices that were held by Democrats. You'll hear even more about how he didn't raise property taxes.
In fact, he's adopted such a hard line on property taxes that he hasn't even allowed any property reassessments -- Allegheny County's last reassessment was in 2002. A court ordered the county to reassess, so now it plans to do by 2012. Onorato, though, wants a statewide moratorium on reassessments to block that from happening.
Indirectly, Onorato's stand against higher property taxes spurred the most entertaining controversy of his tenure. In 2007, the local transit agency faced a fiscal crisis. The state legislature wouldn't let Allegheny County use sales tax revenue to pay for transit. Onorato ruled out property tax hikes. As a result, the county hiked taxes on car rentals and, most controversially, created a new 10% alcoholic beverages tax.
In keeping with the practice of ever other person who has written about this controversy, this is the point in the story when I'm obliged to note that the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion began in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. While no one was tarred and feathered this time, Onorato's public standing did take a hit. There was even a protest song. Later, the tax was reduced to 7%.
Overall, though, Onorato seems as though he's been a pretty clear political success. When he ran for reelection in 2007, he didn't even have a Republican opponent. Assuming he's still relatively popular back home, he has a good profile for a Democrat running statewide. He's a Western Pennsylvania native who comes from a blue collar family (his parents didn't go to college, his father was a mechanic).
Corbett clearly still is the favorite. He's won statewide before and he's been soaking up good press from his Bonusgate investigations. But, Onorato should at least give Democrats a chance.
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