2011-01-06 / Local & State

GOP Strength Should Aid Governor Corbett

By Peter Jackson

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov.-elect Tom Corbett will take office this month with an important advantage that always eluded Gov. Ed Rendell – a Legislature controlled by his own political party.

After eight years of oftenagonizing power-sharing at the state Capitol, Pennsylvania voters brought back one-party control of the executive and legislative branches with the election of Republican Corbett and a hefty new House GOP majority to match the one that has long dominated the Senate.

That gives the Republicans more than enough clout to pass the state budget – or any other bill – without Democratic votes. At the same time, the GOP will no longer have Democrat Rendell or a House Democratic majority to blame when things go awry.

“Clearly, we are now assuming a tremendous responsibility,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.

Nowhere will the stakes be higher than in the looming debate over the state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July.

Corbett, who is in the midst of making Cabinet appointments and will be sworn in on Jan. 18, is slated to present his spending blueprint to lawmakers in early March.

Deep spending cuts seem inevitable. A balanced budget is required by law, but the state faces a projected deficit of at least $4 billion – one-seventh of this year’s $28 billion budget – and Corbett ruled out higher taxes or fees during his campaign.

The challenge for the Republicans will be to focus the cuts as much as possible on Democratic programs that do not fit into their goal of a smaller government and lower taxes, without alienating moderate GOP lawmakers or alarming Pennsylvanians who depend on a wide array of state services.

That could be difficult, since four-fifths of the budget _the logical source of the biggest savings _is committed to programs that help or protect citizens: health care, education, prisons and social services.

“What gets cut is a problem,’’ because every program has constituents who care about it, said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

Democrats need to throw themselves into the role of the loyal opposition – emphasizing the negative effects of the spending cuts and warning Republicans about the political consequences of supporting them – or risk irrelevance, political observers say.

“The next two years will be replete with opportunities for Democrats to differentiate themselves from Republicans,’’ said T.J. Rooney, a former legislator and former Democratic state chairman who now works as a political consultant.

“ You’ve got to make these votes tough’’ for Republicans, Rooney said.

Pileggi, who expressed skepticism last summer that Corbett could balance the budget without raising taxes, said Thursday that he is now willing to give the governor elect the benefit of the doubt.

Pileggi and his newly elected counterpart, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, said their aides are meeting regularly with Corbett’s staff. Both men said they anticipate close collaboration with the new Republican administration.

“We intend to have an ontime, no-tax budget,’’ said Turzai, R-Allegheny, making a backhanded reference to the fact that none of the budgets approved during the Rendell years was completed by the June 30 deadline.

One-party control does not necessarily guarantee that a governor will get what he wants. Republican former Gov. Tom Ridge repeatedly tried and failed to win approval from a GOP-controlled Legislature for tuition vouchers to help parents send children to private or religious schools and the privatization of liquor and wine sales – two proposals now on Corbett’s agenda.

Alan Novak, a former state Republican chairman and a member of Corbett’s transition team, noted that the governor- elect has sought the counsel of many of former Ridge advisers. He said he hopes Corbett will follow Ridge’s lead in using his influence as governor to help raise money to support GOP candidates for all levels of public office.

“ We have to do some smart things with governance, but we also have to do smart things politically,’’ Novak said.

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