Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: email@example.com
Pennsylvania newspapers have taken an opportunity at the onset of a new year to review the accomplishments of Gov. Tom Corbett after his first 365 days in office. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Scranton Times-Tribune don't like what they've seen.
The Inquirer took issue with Corbett's no-tax pledge in its Jan. 9 editorial, particularly after the latest projections leave the state with a $500 million budget deficit for the rest of the fiscal year. The newspaper said the governor should shed that ideological position and confront two other pressing issues for the state. First, he should funnel the estimated $3.5 billion needed to repair more than 5,000 structurally deficient bridges in the states, as well as highways in desperate need of attention. Second, he should levy an extraction tax on Marcellus Shale, which is drilling for natural gas in the state, and ensure that environmental oversight is improved.
"Both issues will require more leadership from the governor, especially since both could bring in additional revenue that might take some of the pressure off other areas of the state budget," the Inquirer argued. "A no-tax pledge that handicaps the state means this governor still has a mighty long way to go before crafting a worthy legacy."
The Times-Tribune's Chris Kelly criticized an internal memo that had been circulating in Corbett's office, praising the governor's accomplishments in his first year. The newspaper's columnist labeled him as an "out-of-touch chief executive who in his first year in office managed to make the infamous Roman Caesar Nero seem like a wildly effective control freak." He also referenced the Marcellus Shale project, which Corbett credited as a job-creating enterprise, although the state's unemployment rate has dipped only 0.4 percent during the governor's time in office. Kelly also pushed for an extraction tax on the company's operations and for greater environmental oversight, efforts that have been ignored by the governor, while other state resources have drastic cuts to address the state's nearly $500 million budget deficit, Kelly said.
"Every day that passes without a [extraction tax] is a day in which every Pennsylvanian -- poor, middle class or well-off -- is being robbed," Kelly concluded in his Jan. 8 column, "and the crime is being subsidized by taxpayers who go to work every day, play by the rules and do their best to take care of their own."
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., commended Corbett in its Jan. 8 editorial for his plan to freeze the pay of state workers, but argued that he didn't go far enough. The newspaper comes back around to the same issue raised by the Inquirer and the Times-Tribune: the need for new revenue, particularly a tax on the Marcellus Shale project, which the Patriot-News noted that two-thirds of the state's residents support. The savings from the pay freeze are relatively small -- about $25 million -- but Corbett should still ask lawmakers and state judges to participate in the "hugely symbolic" gesture, the newspaper said.
"This is an era when Pennsylvanians are simply happy to have jobs. Pay freezes in the public sector should include all elected officials," the Patriot-News said, "and the money should be sent back to the state treasury, not to charity."
Newspaper in Illinois and California also implored their state governments to take simple, yet effective cost-saving measures in the face of huge deficits.
The Jacksonville (Ill.) Journal-Courier wrote on Jan. 9 that the Illinois state government must plug loopholes in its state pension system to bring out-of-control costs back into check.The newspaper cited Gov. Pat Quinn's recent budget proposal, which anticipates a $1.2 billion increase in pension costs. A recently signed law provides a good framework for what such reform should look like: it cracks down on the practice of double-dipping, when public employees collect pensions from two positions or collect a pension while earning a paycheck at another public job, the Journal-Courier explained. With an unfunded $85 million liability remaining for the state pension system, further action is needed.
"Such abuses have helped drive Illinois to the brink of financial collapse, and the state needs to be more active in finding such loopholes," the newspaper said. "Too many times, these situations are corrected only after they have been exposed by newspaper reporters and other members of the media."
In California, the Sacramento Bee beseeched "outdated" state boards to allow themselves to be eliminated. The newspaper referenced in its Jan. 10 editorial the Commission on the Status of Women, which was created 47 years, and whose work has been largely been replaced by private organizations and female public officials elsewhere in the state bureaucracy. The state could save nearly $500,000 by retiring the board, the Bee said, a necessary step as Gov. Jerry Brown considers more "draconian cuts," such as reducing the school year by three weeks.
And the newspaper suggests that there are similar state agencies that have outlived their usefulness and warrant consideration for dismantling in the coming months. "We plan to examine several of them," the Bee stated.