Corbett sworn in, citing the 'pending storm' of a budget deficit

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HARRISBURG - Under threatening skies, Tom Corbett took office Tuesday as Pennsylvania's 46th governor with a subdued ceremony and a speech signaling that while tough economic decisions lie ahead, a new tenor in state government had arrived.

Corbett, a Republican from suburban Pittsburgh, invoked the principles of America's founders and promised to "chart a new course" of limited government, restored integrity, and fiscal discipline.

Against the backdrop of a snow-laced Capitol dome, Corbett, 61, with his wife, Susan, two children, and son-in-law by his side, swore his oath on a palm-size, 1698 Bible that had belonged to William Penn.

The poor weather and low-key festivities - the traditional inaugural parade was scuttled for budget reasons - likely contributed to the smaller-than-average crowd of more than 1,000 people, among them former Govs. Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, and Ed Rendell.

The ceremony marked the end of eight years under Rendell, the gritty, fiery Democrat from Philadelphia, and the beginning of a new kind of administration - initially, at least, more orderly, highly programmed, and toned down.

While acknowledging the "pending storm" of a budget deficit projected at $4 billion to $5 billion, Corbett promised a new era of "civility" and stressed innovation, creativity, and courage to "advance the promise of our commonwealth."

"I have great faith that we will unleash a new common prosperity to benefit all Pennsylvanians," he said.

In a poke at what Republicans characterize as excessive spending by the Rendell administration, Corbett vowed to undo "the deadlock between the current size of government and the size our government should be."

Using words that brought to mind the inaugural message of a Democrat, President John F. Kennedy, Corbett sought to signal a shift to a more business-friendly administration.

"To those who create jobs and to those who raise our future workers: You deserve a government that will not ask more of its citizens until it asks more of itself," he said.

Earlier, at his separate swearing-in ceremony in the Senate chamber, the new lieutenant governor, Jim Cawley, promised that the administration would foster commercial growth by reining in regulations and developing a "fair, equitable, and productive legal system."

"The message they sent was that what's been done in the past isn't working," said Cawley, until recently a Bucks County commissioner. "It's not working for them, it's not working for us."

Corbett vowed to restore "good government" in Harrisburg. He made no direct mention of the so-called Bonusgate investigation, which produced charges and convictions of former legislators and aides for awarding state-funded bonuses to employees for political work. He headed that probe as state attorney general, the post he left to become governor.

"Government has spent beyond its means, and individual corrupt acts have eroded an essential element of leadership - the public's trust," he said.

Corbett has acknowledged he needs to make deep cuts in order to balance the state's $28 billion budget by July 1. He has seven weeks to craft a plan for his first budget address March 8.

While his inaugural speech was thematically broad, one specific policy item Corbett mentioned, albeit fleetingly, was the need for school "competition and choice." He championed school vouchers in his campaign, and Senate Republicans have teed that up as the number-one bill in the new legislative session.

The proposal would equip low-income parents with state-funded vouchers to help pay tuition if they move their children from failing public schools to private, parochial, or charter schools, or to public schools in other districts.

As Corbett issued his call for civility in Harrisburg - a note Rendell had sounded four years earlier - he could barely be heard above the din of 100 or so boisterous protesters who chanted, "Can you hear us, Tom?"

The protesters, including a busload from Philadelphia, were calling for a moratorium on natural-gas drilling in the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation in order to scrutinize the drilling's impact on the environment. Corbett opposes such a moratorium.

Officeholders from Philadelphia and the suburbs said it was too soon to know how Corbett's policy initiatives and spending cuts might play out for the region.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called the tone of Corbett's speech "sobering." He added: "The question is, are we going to focus on jobs and putting people back to work? If we focus on that, if we put aside 'Big D' and 'Big R' and subdue all of that, we'll get through all of this."

Mayor Nutter, in Harrisburg for the event, declined to predict how Philadelphia might fare under Corbett, but noted that Southeastern Pennsylvania makes up 40 percent of the state's economy.

"They spin this whole, 'Well, Gov. Corbett is from the west, you're from the east,' " said Nutter. "My initial response is, everyone's got to live somewhere. And I think he actually cares about Philly and Southeast Pennsylvania." He said Corbett's being on good terms with the region's business leaders would help.

Still, noting Corbett's pledge to add no new taxes, Nutter warned, "It's virtually impossible, without complete devastation all across the commonwealth, to take $5 billion out of the $29 billion state budget just on cuts."

State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) said he agreed with Corbett that the government was too big and costly - "but the difficulty is, everybody who comes in as governor leaves with government being too big and too costly. The proof will be in the pudding."

After his speech, Corbett told reporters that the noisy protest merely showed that the First Amendment was alive and well.

The new governor added: "But may I also remind you about what I talked about in my speech about civility."

 


More Coverage

Karen Heller: In style and substance, a tectonic shift in Pennsylvania politics. A2.

Monica Yant Kinney: We may have lost Gov. Rendell, but we gained James F. Cawley IV. B1.

Speech excerpts, A10.


Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.