Corbett facing an uphill climb toward retention

Speculation abounds as to whether Gov. Tom Corbett might be Pennsylvania’s first governor to fail in a re-election bid since the 1970s, when Keystone State governors became eligible to seek a second consecutive term.

Milton Shapp was the first to win re-election – in 1974 – to a second term immediately after his first, and every governor since has served two full terms, except for Tom Ridge.

Ridge, in his second term at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, resigned in October 2001 to become America’s first Homeland Security director.

His lieutenant governor, Mark S. Schweiker, completed Ridge’s second term but chose not to run for a full term.

The current speculation about Corbett’s future is based on several premises, including: his lack of success in getting major initiatives approved by the Legislature; the fact that he has angered lawmakers and others within his own party, especially regarding revenue-increasing proposals; his role on the Penn State Board of Trustees during the Jerry Sandusky scandal and subsequent dismissal of Joe Paterno; polls showing a lack of voter confidence, even among many Republicans, as to whether the governor deserves another term; the ongoing state fiscal difficulties; and disarray within Corbett’s administration.

Some key personnel have moved on by choice or, in the case of his education secretary nominee, been dismissed.

Then there are those outside state government whom Corbett has angered, particularly the commonwealth’s education sector, including the powerful Pennsylvania State Education Association.

The state’s 500 school districts have struggled with balancing budgets during the Corbett gubernatorial years, as the governor made difficult school subsidy decisions due to the state’s own fiscal problems.

But many people have forgotten that Corbett predecessor Ed Rendell planted the seeds for some school district financial woes that have necessitated layoffs and other cutbacks.

It was the Rendell administration’s generosity toward education which paved the way for many overly generous teacher contracts within shaky economic circumstances.

A growing inflow of state money removed districts’ incentive to cut back on spending, like they’ve had to do since Corbett took office.

Meanwhile, by virtue of his job as the central figure in state government and despite General Assembly failures, Corbett is cast in the role of whipping boy because of so much important unfinished business – including the lack of a new transportation funding package, failure of efforts to privatize the state’s liquor business and lottery, and failure to effect a rollback in public pension benefits, a move that would lessen the negative impact on local-level taxpayers stemming from the shortsighted legislative action of 2001.

That was the year the Legislature granted big pension increases to lawmakers, judges and teachers, which in turn required school districts to increase local-level pension allocations.

That action will continue to impact school districts’ budget preparations adversely, although somewhat less if Harrisburg can agree on a way to roll back those benefits.

“Corbett needs a big legislative victory to stop the narrative that he’s not effective,” said Terry Madonna, a political science professor and pollster at Franklin and Marshall College.

We agree. And while Corbett might be failing, voters should look beyond Corbett, to those lawmakers whose seats have been made “safe” by redistricting.

They and the rest of the legislative contingent are as much to blame as the governor for what ails Pennsylvania.