Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has spent his summer crisscrossing the state warning of a “ticking time bomb.”
He’s not referring to his embattled re-election run, but he could be.
Corbett, with poll numbers in the toilet and under attack for a first-term that critics assail as cruel and unusual for its austere budgets and perceived cuts in education funding (something the governor denies), was in dire need of an issue. He believes he found one in the state’s ballooning deficit in its two major public employee pension funds. The last time we looked, this massive deficit was approaching $50 billion and not looking back. But to be honest, issues like the yawning sea of red ink involving pensions too often produce yawns from voters. That’s when he tied escalating pension costs to Joe Citizen’s wallet. And he did it by returning to a topic his opponents have been beating him over the head with for three years.
The governor asserted that pension costs are forcing the hands of local school boards to raise property taxes.
Voila! Now that’s something voters understand. Pension costs are taking money out of the family pocketbook, food off their table and putting people out of work as harried local school boards cut, cut and then cut some more.
What Corbett does not have is an answer.
This week he once again got one — from a somewhat surprising source.
Gov. Corbett, meet Tom McGarrigle. Actually, you’ve already been introduced. McGarrigle is the Republican chairman of Delaware County Council. He’s one of those guys you were standing next to at the press conferences that were held after thousands of jobs — and two local refineries — were saved.
McGarrigle has a idea about how to resolve the annual struggle for education funding. Brace yourself, governor, you’re not going to like it.
Corbett rode into office four years ago in part due to a pledge not to raise taxes. After a rocky four years in which his foes have accused him of not only not raising taxes, but ignoring new sources of revenue, the governor has admitted he is no longer singing that tune.
That’s music to McGarrigle’s ears, but it likely will sound like a scratchy old LP to Corbett.
McGarrigle reinforced his announced stance that the state should enact a 4 percent extraction tax on the state’s booming Marcellus Shale region drilling. McGarrigle shouldn’t wait for hosannas from the governor. Corbett has been adamantly opposed to calls for an extraction tax. He fears a heavy-handed new levy could drive away industry — and jobs. He points out the state is already “taxing” the natural gas industry. It’s just not called a tax. Instead, Corbett successfully got the legislature to enact an impact fee, which has raised more than $630 million. McGarrigle says a 4 percent levy on drilling operations would raise as much as $1.6 billion in the first two years alone.
The governor’s opponents are calling it a missed opportunity.
McGarrigle believes enacting an extraction tax should be on the top of the legislature’s to-do list when they return to Harrisburg next week.