Less taxes, more jobs — it’s the promise Gov. Tom Corbett made to Pennsylvania when he ran for election in 2010, and it’s the promise he’s making for the upcoming 2014 race as well.
“I’ve kept my promise,” Corbett explained Friday, when he sat down for an exclusive interview with The Era at The Country Porch coffee shop in Smethport.
Since he took office, he explained, there are more than 130,000 new private sector jobs in the state. “How many times do we have people who run for statewide office keep their promises?”
He acknowledged his unpopularity in the polls, saying he’s seen his numbers decline “ever since I introduced a budget that was responsible.”
However, he added, “the popular thing isn’t necessarily the right thing.” Continuing policies from the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell wasn’t an option, Corbett said.
“If you wanted to see jobs come back to Pennsylvania it wasn’t by continuing to raise taxes to pay for programming. It was by getting our spending under control.”
An example, he said, was a $40 million reduction in spending on the state’s vehicle fleet.
“We’ve actually made the tough decisions,” Corbett said. Several of the Democrats who have announced intentions to run for governor have been legislators in the past, and have voted to increase taxes, he said.
“The ones who are running against me, what you will get (with them in office) is Washington,” Corbett said, referring to the state of the federal government. “We’re not giving them Washington. Are we giving them a firm fiscal budget? Yes, but we’re not raising taxes. That’s the difference.”
He explained an inheritance tax with family farms has been eliminated; a tax on small limited liability companies was eliminated; the corporate stock and franchise tax has been lowered; the corporate net income tax is on a downward trend.
Lowering those taxes will help attract businesses to develop in the state, he said, and keep businesses already here.
Unemployment has gone down since he took office as well. From June 2009 to August 2013, the unemployment rate in McKean County dropped 28.6 percent; Elk County dropped 53.2 percent; Cameron County dropped 38.3 percent; and Potter County dropped 18.5 percent.
“We’ve changed the direction. We’re growing. We’re going to continue to grow,” Corbett said. “We’re establishing a natural gas industry in Pennsylvania that is going to reindustrialize Pennsylvania.”
While the Marcellus Shale is currently not making a large impact in this region, the governor said he believes it will in the years to come. Along with the unconventional drilling has come tighter environmental regulations that impact all drillers — including independent shallow well oil producers who are experiencing hardship from the regulations they feel shouldn’t include them.
“There are some questions about ‘can adjustments be made,’ but I can’t go into those right now,” Corbett said, declining to elaborate further. However, he added, “It becomes an environmental issue. I know there’s a lot of environmentalists who may not believe that I believe in the environment, but I do.”
As to the impact on conventional well producers, Corbett said, “That is the cost of doing business. We have to protect the environment.”
The governor addressed the state of education as well. Contrary to popular belief, he said, he has not cut the education budget. The Rendell administration had taken almost a billion dollars out of the education funding in the state and replaced it with one-time federal stimulus money. Then school districts in the state were told not to use that money for operating expenses. However, many districts did just that.
“When I came into office, that (stimulus) money was gone,” Corbett said. “Did I cut it? No, it was already gone. I do have to balance a budget.”
In fact, the governor said, “Today, we have more state money going into this line item than any time in the history of Pennsylvania, into the basic education funding formula.”
In the 2009-10 fiscal year, when Rendell was in office, the state’s contribution to education funding was $4,871,339. In 2013-14, under Corbett, the basic education funding from the state is $5,503,629.
“They continue to say I cut education. No. If you look at the facts, it was cut before I walked in the door.”
He advised people to check the website pa.gov for “Investing in Pennsylvania Kids,” where files are available on every school district in the state, including average teacher salaries and benefits. “In many locations, the teachers are some of the best paid people in the county.
“If we would have raised taxes just to make up the difference in the education funding, by now a family of four would be paying an additional $2,200 in annual taxes,” Corbett said.
Corbett took office as governor in January 2011. He has served as attorney general of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 1997, and was later elected to that office in 2004 and 2008. At least eight Democratic candidates have already declared an intention to seek the governorship.