While Pennsylvania’s corporate media has been all wrapped up in the micro-drama as to whether Gov. Tom Corbett will sign the budget passed by the General Assembly, little attention is being paid to what may be a preemptive strike against a Tom Wolf administration, should the Democrat win November’s gubernatorial election. And, the possibility of Wolf winning the contest has got PA Republicans preparing for the worst. According to a Franklin and Marshall poll released yesterday, Tom Wolf leads Corbett by a 22 point margin (47% – 25%).
In a statement released Monday, Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center said, “The budget adopted by the Senate today relies on revenue estimates that are no more than magical thinking. It leaves a ticking time bomb that will explode before the year is out. The Pennsylvania Constitution requires a balanced budget. This budget does not meet that obligation.” And it is that “ticking time bomb” that harkens back to the strategy developed by national Republican leaders following Obama’s election victory in 2008. Robert Draper’s 2012 book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do, documented a semi-secret meeting of leading GOP lawmakers who met the night of Obama’s inauguration to develop a strategy to twart his presidency. That strategy has been to oppose everything Obama supports and to blame his administration for everything that is wrong.
The GOP’s “just say no” legislative strategy did not end with Obama’s first term of course. Republican House leader John Boehner continues to carry the banner with gusto. For example, as The Hill reported, in Boehner’s June 19th weekly press conference,
Boehner offered up a global tour of problematic flash points for the administration and blamed Obama for squandering U.S. gains in Iraq, the scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Internal Revenue Service, lackluster economic growth and the influx of immigrant children flooding at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“You look at this presidency, and you can’t help but get the sense that the wheels are coming off,” Boehner said.
The new Republican budget for Pennsylvania smells of the same strategy.
Sharon Ward calls the budget that passed the Pennsylvania General Assembly a “ticking time bomb” because by any sane measure, the state will run out of money by the end of the year – just in time for Tom Wolf to take office should he win the Governor’s chair. In an interview on The Rick Smith Show on June 30, State Representative Pat Harkin (D) said that “the appropriations people on both sides said that they anticipate by January we’ll be out of money…it borders on criminal.” What happens then? Harkin made it pretty plain, “In six months look for a PIT tax increase – personal income tax – and look for a severance tax. I believe when Wolf takes over you’ll have special sessions on this and we’ll have to deal with drastic things like this at that point.” And Rick had it right is his response, “so, you’re talking about some pretty painful stuff for the next governor.”
As yet, we don’t have any evidence of a semi-secret summit among PA Republicans to stimie a Wolf administration through this year’s budget process. However, there is no need for one. The coordinated national GOP “just say no” strategy coupled with the billions of dollars dumped into state elections to support fringe right-wing policies and politicians since 2010 by the likes of the Koch Brothers, has made this part of the standard Republican playbook these days. And let’s not forget, the Koch Brothers were Pennsylvania around the winter legislative break – right around Christmas, actually – to put pressure on PA Republican’s to push extreme legislation before Corbett gets the boot. Writing for the City Paper in January 2014, Daniel Denvir reported,
Reports have whipped across the state this week that major anti-labor groups are sending resources to Pennsylvania in a push to curb public employee unions, an effort modeled on successful attacks in the traditional labor strongholds of Wisconsin and Michigan.
“We have seen an uptick in activity by the usual right-wing groups like Commonwealth Foundation,” says Wythe Keever, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We’ve been hearing that there’s some billionaire corporate interests that are pouring money into the state. Republican lawmakers are being threatened that if they don’t vote for paycheck- deduction legislation they will face a Tea Party primary opponent.”
A likely vehicle for this effort is House Bill 1507. The legislation would make it impossible for public-sector unions to automatically collect dues from their members’ paychecks and eliminate the required “fair share fee” from workers who do not join. The legislation would also make it impossible for unions to automatically deduct optional donations to labor political funds.
Denvir was dead on in his reporting as we have seen a spring filled with attacks on workers through proposed legislation like HB 1507 fashioned from Koch-backed model bills. It would be nothing short of naive to believe that the increased attention being paid to Pennsylvania by right-wing groups has not included discussions about how to limit or thwart a future Democratic governor should Corbett continue to fail.
It would seem that PA Republicans sense the beginning of a push back by Pennsylvanians to their cut-gut-and-punish austerity policies. Since 2010, billions of dollars have been slashed from K-12 education, public higher education budgets have been gutted, public assistance programs have been eliminated, and boatloads of cash have been dumped from the Commonwealth’s General Fund into the already overloaded pockets of global corporations – especially those with “gas” or “oil” in their names. Meanwhile, according to Arizona State University’s “Job Growth USA” database, which tracks job growth by state, Pennsylvania dropped from 7th in job creation to 33rd (after lingering at 47th for quite some time) under Gov. Tom Corbett’s tenure. If you track the “12 month moving average” of job creation on the database (that is, from May 2013 to May 2014), Pennsylvania still ranks 46th.
Gloomy job growth should be enough to give pause raise concerns about the budget that sits on Corbett’s desk waiting for his signature. Jobs, after all, are only part of the budget picture. In a Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center report released last month, we saw that the REVENUE picture is even worse. The introduction to the report told the story:
For the sixth straight month, General Fund revenues fell short of estimate in May, missing the target by $108 million, or 5.5% for the month. The year-to-date revenue deficit grows to $613 million, or 2.3% below estimate (excluding the early transfer of liquor store profits in March). The deficit is now larger than the $581 million the Independent Fiscal Office had forecasted for the fiscal year just one month ago, as tax collections in nearly every category fell short of estimate in May.
Not only has Gov. Corbett and PA Republicans offered up a steady diet of austerity, they have effectively blunted the public relations impact of their policies by Disneyifying their revenue projections. That’s the “magical thinking” to which Sharon Ward referred.
The budget passed by the PA General Assembly is not only bad, it is packaged in such a way to dampen the cost to PA Republican legislators during the 2014 elections and maximize the cost on Tom Wolf should he become the next governor of the Commonwealth.