Give Gov. Tom Corbett and state lawmakers credit for approving a state budget—on time—without raising taxes. It’s the third year in a row that this has happened.
But what Corbett and the members of the State Senate and State House failed to do before they left Harrisburg for the summer break is pass any of the major initiatives that the governor pushed for this year.
Corbett’s approval ratings had reached new lows in February, with barely one in four Pennsylvanians approving of his job performance, when he started laying out initiatives that would help shape the 2013-14 budget. Corbett wanted to privatize the state’s liquor stores, spend heavily to fix crumbling roads and bridges, and make changes that would finally address the underfunded retirement system for teachers and state employees.
It was an ambitious agenda, to be sure. The underfunded retirement system has been a problem for more than a decade and school districts across the state are struggling to meet the skyrocketing pension costs. Pennsylvania governors have been trying to privatize the liquor and wine stores for decades without success. And the roads and bridges didn’t suddenly fall into a state of disrepair. It has taken decades of neglect.
Corbett desperately needed a win on at least one of these issues as he prepares for what will almost certainly be a difficult reelection bid in 2014. In the February poll, Corbett’s job performance wasn’t even favorable among a majority of Republicans. With the 2014 election getting closer by the day, Corbett needed an accomplishment to put on his résumé. But the governor swung and missed on all three of his major initiatives, even though Republicans control both the state house and state senate.
It’s possible that all three could be back on the table in the fall, but once the state legislature returns to work in September, it won’t be long before everyone becomes consumed with the 2014 election campaign. Are lawmakers going to be willing to support the tax increase of some sort that will be necessary to repair roads and bridges? How about making the difficult decisions that will be necessary to find a solution to the pension system crisis—does that sound like something that lawmakers will be able to pull off in an election year? Is it likely that privatizing the liquor stores will take place now after decades of false starts?
Gov. Corbett will most likely enter the final year of his first term as a prisoner of his own ineffectiveness and the unwieldy Pennsylvania State Legislature, one of the largest full-time state legislatures in the country, has once again proven why Harrisburg isn't just our state capital, it's also the capital of the status quo.