Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The LuLac Edition #1668, July 6th, 2011




Governor Tom Corbett needs an image makeover. The Governor set out what he wanted to do which was get a budget in on time, passed and also reduce spending in the state. But one has to wonder how all of this was accomplished and at what political cost. John Baer from the Philadelphia Daily ews wrote an excellent article about how Corbett has presented himself and his agenda to the state.
John Baer: Corbett's message needs work
I'm thinking Gov. Corbett's message needs a makeover.
I know some think his mind needs one, but I'm trying to be constructive here.
His goal upon taking office was to "build a new Pennsylvania." But the vibe around his first budget is more like "punish the poor and close urban schools."
Many see his stance against taxing the enormous profits pulled from Marcellus Shale as related to the enormous contributions he pulled from shale drillers.
The raw political takeaway is the poor and cities don't vote Republican so the Republican governor dances only with those who brought him.
The hardening image of the new incumbent is one of allegiance to big business and a no-tax pledge while cutting schools and social services - even while socking away unexpected revenues of a half-billion dollars.
Corbett's answer, offered again yesterday at a Capitol news conference, is this: "The people of Pennsylvania elected me to hold the line on taxes, to hold the line on spending, and that's what we're doing."
Maybe that's enough to appease most of the state. Maybe it's enough to assure re-election in three years. But I'd argue that Corbett can do better.
He is, according to statewide polling, off to a rocky start. His job approval rating in a Quinnipiac Poll earlier this month was 39 percent. Ed Rendell's rating at a similar point in his first year (May 2003, Quinnipiac Poll) was 49 percent; Tom Ridge's (April 1995, Millersville Keystone Poll) was 53 percent.
So Corbett's got some room to grow.
One place he can grow is explaining his public education policy. He's got two arguments he can pound like kettle drums.
One was offered Monday by state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon.
Tomalis noted that the state's school-age population is decreasing, down 4 percent in the last decade. At the same time, education spending (federal, state and local) increased 68 percent, and the total number of teachers increased 14.5 percent.
Fewer students, more money, more teachers: seems a good place to start making points for less spending on schools.
Another place is the "unreserved" accounts that most school districts maintain. I've twice written this. The statewide total tops $3 billion; money squirreled away while many districts beg for more or threaten local tax hikes.
I asked Tomalis about this yesterday: "It's doubled in the last 10 years . . . I think you use those reserves to cushion" cuts. When I asked why this isn't front and center in the administration's case, Tomalis said, "That's a good question."
I understand poorer districts such as Philly suffer under current funding schemes and I've argued that state funding should more fairly help areas with shrinking tax bases rather than continually pour money into wealthier districts.
But the overriding issue of total state spending on schools is an example of Corbett missing opportunities to make his strongest points.
It isn't enough to have ideas and plans. They need to be sold to the public.
Part of the problem is Corbett's prosecutorial mindset uses a process he describes as "ready, aim, fire." That works well in bringing legal charges and building a legal case. But more is needed in building public support for public policy.
Another problem is Corbett's reluctance to use his pulpit.
More pitching on statewide TV or appearances at other than friendly chambers of commerce could boost his numbers, push his programs and provide, well, a message makeover.

John Baer is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and a frequent guest and moderator on Statewide TV.


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