John Baer: Corbett budget: Slice and dice

GOV. CORBETT, an avowed advocate of transparency, is offering a state budget more than transparent in terms of its politics and political goals.

It reflects a philosophy that the best government is that which governs least.

As such, it offers little help to Philly schools or the city's poor; both can look for less from the state.

Republican Corbett, elected in 2010 after promising no new taxes and big spending cuts, delivered his second straight no-tax budget; and his $27.1 billion plan calls for $20 million less spending than last year.

The Republican-controlled Legislature is likely to pass it mostly as is.

"I can't see anything that gets us [delayed] past June 30," the fiscal-year deadline, Senate President Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said after Corbett's budget address.

There are, again, big cuts proposed in higher education, including 30 percent less for Temple, 28 percent less for Penn State. But in an election year for lawmakers, it would be no surprise if some, if not most, of these cuts get restored.

What apparently is not restored is Corbett's fervor for school vouchers or the sale of state stores, neither of which was mentioned in his 37-minute speech.

And, since all of the House and half the Senate faces re-election, don't look for any real push on those issues; or, put more honestly, on any issue with deep-pocket advocates on both sides who are not shy about contributing to campaigns.

Speaking of which, the Guv who promised real reforms that the Legislature would not like, again forgot to offer them.

The overriding punch lines of his plan are again the same: fiscal discipline, limited government and support of free enterprise.

Some details are sketchy.

As to troublesome transportation issues - more bad bridges than any other state, 8,000 miles of bad roads and a fix-it price of $3 billion - Corbett said this: "Whatever solution we enact must be a lasting one . . . I look forward to working with you."

As to jobs, he offered an "innovative" program, "Jobs First PA." Details, he said, to follow.

As to cuts in higher ed, which some call long-term foolish, the Guv said he's appointed a panel to "make recommendations."

It's headed by Rob Wonderling, a former state senator and current Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce boss, and is to report by Nov. 15.

I'd note that that's after the elections. But, hey, what's the hurry?

There was a cute political wrinkle yesterday. The budget address was delayed a half-hour while the Senate rushed to pass a long-awaited impact fee on Marcellus shale. It's now before the House and likely to become law.

For those asking what big-ticket items the Guv and GOP Legislature accomplished, or will soon, this offers an example. It also diverts at least some attention from budget criticisms.

Philly Sen. Vincent Hughes, senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, however, is not diverted.

Blasting Corbett with both barrels, Hughes says the Guv "spent a year putting his foot on the necks of the poor . . . he doesn't give a damn about low-income people."

Hughes cites cuts in health insurance, food-stamp eligibility and cash assistance at the same time that corporations get hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks.

Democratic budget analysts say Corbett cuts $150 million in cash grants for the poor and, while all school districts get the same basic funding as last year, education block-grant cuts mean Philly schools stand to lose $20 million.

Mayor Nutter said that the city hasn't sorted out details but that "clearly, there's a reduction in funding . . . [And] I'm very, very concerned as to what programs are impacted by that level of reduction."

There is transparency, though: with this governor, what you see is what you get.


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