Michael Reagan: Don’t dump Pennsylvania’s governor
Be careful, Pennsylvania people.
Don’t make it worse by dumping your Republican governor, Tom Corbett.
Despite the Marcellus Shale boom that’s turned Pennsylvania into the Saudi Arabia of natural gas, the Keystone State’s current fiscal condition is almost as dire as New Jersey’s.
According to a recent Mercatus Center study of every state’s ability to balance its budgets and still pay for health care and pension costs, Pennsylvania is ranked No. 42. Jersey (50), Illinois (48) and New York (45) are worse, but that’s no consolation.
Pennsylvania — where I was earlier this month giving a speech to a conservative leadership conference near Harrisburg — can’t afford to lose Gov. Corbett.
The unflashy, non-ideological, fiscally responsible, moderate Republican was staring at a $4.2 billion budget deficit the day he took office in 2010.
Instead of raising taxes, the usual bipartisan solution, Corbett cut waste, axed inefficient programs and got rid of the millions of dollars legislators were able to spend as they wished in their districts on their pet projects.
Corbett couldn’t do the impossible — keep his campaign promise to privatize the state’s embarrassingly backward retail wine and booze monopoly.
And he hasn’t turned Pennsylvania’s public sector into anything as healthy as Alaska’s, or even South Dakota’s, the top two most fiscally sound energy-rich states.
But Gov. Corbett erased the budget deficit without raising the state income tax. And he cut government spending enough to enrage the big-spender lobby, the teachers union and, not to be redundant, the state’s Democrats.
According to the national political wizards, however, Corbett is one of the most vulnerable incumbent GOP governors in the land.
It’s not because Democrats in his state have gotten stronger or less stupid.
Their four gubernatorial nominees are fighting to see who can pander the most to the teachers union and slap the highest severance tax on natural gas production.
Corbett’s biggest obstacle to reelection might be his fellow Republicans.
Some conservatives are complaining he hasn’t done enough to diminish the entrenched power of unions, especially considering the state Senate and House are in Republican hands.
They also want Corbett to address the state’s $50 billion in unfunded liability for the retirement plans of teachers and government workers.
But Pennsylvania’s conservatives better wise up and appreciate what they’ve got.
Their pursuit of ideological purity could wind up electing a Democrat who’ll smother their state’s gas boom with onerous taxes and excessive environmental regulations.
The Marcellus Shale play is gigantic and just getting started. Already it’s put more than $2 billion worth of royalties in the bank accounts of Pennsylvania property owners, boosted local tax revenues and created tens of thousands of new jobs.
Pennsylvania was the country’s first energy state. It’s where most of the coal that built America into an industrial superpower came from and where the oil and gas industries began 150 years ago.
Now the Keystone State sits in the middle of the continent’s most productive natural gas field.
Pennsylvania’s economy is being rejuvenated by the shale boom, but Democrats only want to fatten the state government on gas severance taxes.
Corbett knows how foolish that would be. He knows that as long as the state government doesn’t kill the goose that’s generating the first important economic growth spurt in a century, Pennsylvania will receive hundreds of millions of dollars from its reasonable gas drilling impact fees.
Corbett may not be as ideologically pure as some conservatives wish, but they should remember a few things.
They should remember my father’s 80-20 rule for Republicans — that if you’re with me 80 percent of the time, I’m with you.
And they should remember the Bill Buckley Jr. rule — that Republicans should nominate the best conservative who can win in the general election.
So my Pennsylvania friends, you may not love Gov. Corbett. But on Election Day you better like him enough — and appreciate him enough — to vote for him.
Michael Reagan is the son of President Ronald Reagan and president of The Reagan Legacy Foundation. Email comments to Reagan@caglecartoons.com.