Public workers' pension costs are a "Pac-Man" that will consume an ever-greater share of the state budget unless changes are made - and his Democratic opponent continues to duck that issue, Gov. Corbett said Wednesday.
"If I don't get reelected for four more years, there will be nothing done about this, because Mr. [Tom] Wolf says there is not a pension problem," Corbett said.
If he wins a second term, Corbett said, he would call a special session of the legislature early next year to force action on pensions, including for municipal workers. He said Scranton is distressed because of unaffordable pension obligations and predicted some school districts in Pennsylvania will come "doggone close to bankruptcy" without a solution.
With fewer than eight weeks until the Nov. 4 election, Corbett trails Wolf, a York businessman, by an average of 15 percentage points in four independent polls taken since early July. He was making his case for another term to members of the Inquirer Editorial Board.
In the governor's view, he is hurting politically because he has taken on issues "no one else will touch." He mentioned his efforts to cut future pension costs, to end the system of state-controlled liquor stores, and to privatize management of the state lottery. The legislature, controlled by fellow Republicans, has stymied Corbett on all three priorities.
"If I had been looking toward reelection, do you think I would have taken on pensions, when all it does is get everyone upset?" Corbett asked. He added that he hoped voters would give him credit for trying.
Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said in an e-mail last night that Corbett's pension reform plan was merely "kicking the can down the road."
On Philadelphia's school budget crisis, Corbett faulted the city for not doing better at collecting delinquent property taxes that help fund the schools - and the teachers for contributing "not a dime" to their health care costs, unlike teachers in other Pennsylvania districts.
In a 90-minute discussion that touched on an array of topics, Corbett struck an assured, even feisty tone as he blasted "public-employee unions" for resisting several of his policy proposals, such as pension change and liquor privatization, which he said were based on common sense rather than "dogma or ideology."
Said he was waiting for courts to resolve a legal fight over whether state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane can release information about an alleged exchange of pornographic e-mails among state law enforcement officials several years ago when he was attorney general. Corbett said he "absolutely" had been unaware of the e-mails. Had he known, he said, "I would have gone ballistic. And you all have never seen me go ballistic."
Called on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to ameliorate the city schools' funding crisis by agreeing to start contributing to the cost of health care. On average, teachers in suburban districts pay 14 percent, Corbett said. "Other unions have come to the table. Yet the teachers continue to spend more money to try to beat me," he said.
Said his decision Tuesday to delay implementing Common Core nationwide education standards was not a sop to conservative supporters who have raised concerns about those standards. "It's clear in the discussions I've had everywhere I've gone that people don't feel they were apprised of or had the opportunity to comment on all of this," he said. On Wednesday, he ordered the state education board to hold hearings on the standards.
Declined to comment directly on the controversial decision by Kane, a Democrat, to end a "sting" investigation launched when Corbett was attorney general, a probe that sources and documents say taped five Philadelphia elected officials accepting cash or, in one instance, a $2,000 bracelet.
Corbett did say: "Let's put it this way: I had very good prosecutors who were working that case."
Inquirer staff writers Craig R. McCoy and Amy Worden contributed to this article.