Tom Corbett: An Appreciation

In his four statewide campaigns for public office, Tom Corbett presented himself as the candidate who would make the tough decisions and do the right thing. As he now concludes a decade of public service to our Commonwealth, he has proven himself to be a man of his word.

While governor, Tom Corbett stopped the Harrisburg business-as-usual approach of relentless spending increases and tax hikes.  Rather than accepting longstanding boondoggles like Pennsylvania’s government-run liquor system, Corbett sought to refocus state government on its core responsibilities. Even as the Great Recession drove down tax collections, he correctly asserted that the state had a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

After eight years of billion-dollar spending increases, Corbett understood that right-sizing state government through spending restraint was indispensable to improving Pennsylvania’s economic position. The sheer size and unrelenting growth of government spending, taxes, and regulation was discouraging initiative, investment, and jobs.

In the face of slander from spending advocates, Corbett’s resolve grew stronger. PMA, our member companies, and our allied business organizations applaud him for his efforts.

“Under Tom Corbett’s leadership, Pennsylvania’s private sector workforce has reached an all-time high of more than five million,” said PMA Executive Director David N. Taylor. “When he said he would have mercy on the taxpayers and make state government live within its means, he actually meant it. His pro-growth stewardship as governor helped Pennsylvania employers add 184,100 net private sector jobs, lowering the state unemployment rate from 8.1% when he took office to 5.1% today.”

Corbett’s tough-minded approach earned him few friends among the insiders. In response, he reaffirmed his resolve when during the second campaign he said, “I didn’t come to Harrisburg to make friends.” He summarized his thoughts in a recent interview with the AP: "I promised exactly what I was going to do. I made tough decisions. I wish I hadn't been in the position to have to make them, but they had to be made, and people were upset with them."

The friction with the insiders started even before he was elected in 2010. As Attorney General, he initiated the prosecution of lawmakers who spent taxpayer money on political campaigns and self-aggrandizement. When he then became governor, he faced down a $4 billion dollar deficit. (The deficit was $8 billion if you count the unemployment compensation debt he eliminated.) Difficult decisions were made, but state government growth was halted, and taxes were not increased – as promised.

With a core group of legislative allies, he accomplished what in modern history has never been done: enacted a balanced budget that actually spent less than the previous year. All the while, he began restoring education funding lost with the end of an infusion of federal stimulus dollars.

The next year came another restrained spending plan, then another and another. The economy began expanding again, jobs were created and the state’s coffers grew not from higher tax rates but from more workers and businesses paying taxes.  

Over the four years, his other successes piled up steadily even if they weren’t moves designed to grab headlines. However, in substance, these accomplishments made Pennsylvania more economically competitive. He received awards from groups that base their assessments on hard facts. For example, The Council on State Taxation, for example, jumped Pennsylvania’s tax system rating from a “D” to an “A-“ under Tom Corbett’s leadership.

 

Perhaps Corbett’s greatest success came about because of what he didn’t do. At the top of that list must be his work in allowing Pennsylvania’s natural gas revolution to advance. If another industry promised to bring the jobs and investments on the scale of the Marcellus Shale, Harrisburg would shower it with subsidies and special favors. By keeping the looters at bay for four years, Corbett’s stance allowed the industry grow. We will all benefit in the long run. He was, and still is, correct.

“Every previous governor adjusted during his first term in office,” said G. Terry Madonna., Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs, Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. “Tom Corbett never did that.”

Many Corbett supporters were frustrated that he didn’t beat back the lies and trumpet his successes until it was too late. We wished at the very least he had talked up the massively successful transportation bill he signed in 2013 that is already leading to safer roads and bridges, and has created nearly 30,000 new jobs. Or how he fought for, and eventually won, a monumental federal waiver to extend health care coverage to 600,000 additional Pennsylvanians using private insurance carriers - not the overpriced, underperforming Medicaid system.

Pennsylvania would have prospered further if he had four more years to continue his work. There’s still plenty on the table: a badly broken public pension system that next year will consume nearly a tenth of the General Fund budget; the Liquor Control Board; tort and labor laws from a bygone era; and chasing the ever-moving business competitiveness benchmark.

But over the past four years, you are thankful if you’re one of the 180,000+ who now has a private sector job that didn’t exist before; or if you’re the farmer who doesn’t have to sell the family farm to pay the death tax; or the parent of a child who through a business sponsored scholarship program can transfer that child to a better school.

Thank you Governor Tom Corbett for taking the reins at a time when no one really new where the bottom was. Your level-steady leadership righted the ship. You trusted that with the right environment for business growth, Pennsylvania would start working again. We did. Pennsylvania is moving in a positive direction and unemployment levels are at historic lows. More remains to be done and we hope that the next four years, some how, some way, will be as productive as the last.