Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grading Tom Corbett's First Budget Speech

Tom Corbett will never be mistaken for Ed Rendell.

His first budget address, delivered Tuesday, was as sharp a contrast as you will get between the slick, polished, media-savvy Ed Rendell and Tom Corbett, a prosecutor who still doesn't feel comfortable in front of large crowds, even after being elected governor of one of the nation's largest states.

Corbett was all business Tuesday as he addressed a joint session of the Pennsylvania Legislature. The subject, digging out of the fiscal mess left behind by Ed Rendell, was a sobering topic.

Corbett tried a couple of funny lines, but his delivery was off. If you're looking for charisma, start changing the channel until you find Charlie Sheen.

Corbett is at his best when he talks straight to fellow Pennsylvanias. It's a refreshing change from "Fast Eddie" Rendell, who had trouble telling the truth.

The Commonwealth Foundation gave Corbett a solid "B" for his message. That's a big improvement considering the same group gave Ed Rendell eight straight "F" grades on his budget addresses.

Here's the CF press release analyzing Corbett's speech:
The Commonwealth Foundation graded Gov. Tom Corbett's budget address a solid B today in its call to end the tax-borrow-and-spend approach to budgeting that placed Pennsylvanian in the present fiscal crisis.

"Unlike the past eight years that earned a fiscal grade of F, this budget puts the taxpayers first and deserves a solid B for not increasing taxes, reducing expenditures, and putting the taxpayers' interests first," said Commonwealth Foundation President and CEO Matthew J. Brouillette. "But much more can be done to limit state government to its core functions and begin reducing Pennsylvania's ranking as the 10th highest tax burden in the nation."

Brouillette praised the governor's call to give taxpayers greater control over school property tax increases above the rate of inflation, but encouraged him to go further. "Act 1 of 2006 failed to control property tax increases, and homeowners are paying for that legislative failure today," said Brouillette. "But we should give taxpayers a say over any and all tax increases. These are the taxpayers' schools and they should decide if they want to pay a penny more for them."

The governor also called for wage rollbacks and salary freezes for state workers who received pay increases while the private sector lost jobs. "Gov. Corbett gave great hope that Pennsylvania can end the inequity between private-sector taxpayers and government employees who enjoys better health care benefits, better pensions, better job security, and an earlier retirement," said Brouillette.

"In calling for ‘collective sacrifices' in the union bargaining process, Gov. Corbett asked state government workers to share in the same economic reality and burdens the taxpayers have every day," said Brouillette. "With 17 of 19 state union contracts set to expire in June, this is a reasonable approach to restoring the balance of power back to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania."

Setting the agenda for greater school choice and expanded privatization to include ending the state monopoly over liquor, Gov. Corbett called for "reality-based budgeting" by changing the budget focus from inputs to outcomes and having government prioritize spending based on well-defined core functions.

"This is a big step in the right direction, but it only slows the runaway tax-borrow-and-spend train that is state government," said Brouillette. "Pennsylvania still has a lot of work to be done, but we are hopeful this governor and this General Assembly will keep the promises they have made to the taxpayers."

To earn an A+, the Commonwealth Foundation recommends the complete elimination of "corporate welfare" programs; a more fiscally conservative revenue projection; reducing welfare fraud and abuse; and better financial planning for the coming pension, retiree health care, and Medicaid funding crises.

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