Given the choice, Corbett Opts for Short-term Profits Over Environment and Education

Posted by By at 17 February, at 08 : 12 AM Print

Gov. Tom Corbett’s seems to believe that putting money into things like education, so that future jobs might find young Pennsylvanians qualified to take them, is unnecessary, wasteful spending. Investment, on the other hand, means continued tax breaks to gas and coal companies so they can have profits now, some of which they may later contribute to his re-election campaign.

Case in point: A report published in December revealed the state gives about $2.9 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. He wanted to cut funding to alternative energy development because, he said, that segment was mature enough to stand on its own. The oil and coal industries had been receiving subsidies for so long, there was no sense stopping now.

That was consistent with some other budgets he cut, such as funding to the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. DEP and DCNR are examples of the kind of agencies some politicians mean when they talk about “job-killing regulations,” such as ensuring clean air and water.

He appointed Mike Krancer to head the Department of Environmental Protection – a nice enough guy, I suppose, but one whose most visible qualifications included an unsuccessful bid in 2007 for a state supreme court judgeship.

And the Department of Community and Economic Development went to C. Alan Walker, whose experience as CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal – once one of the state’s largest coal mining companies – enables him to recognize red tape when he sees it. His appointment, Corbett announced last fall, came with authority to fast-track industrial proposals that promise jobs, thus slicing through the environmental permitting process like Marcellus development through a mountain woodland.

To put the icing on the cake, Corbett last month fired the head of the DCNR Citizens Advisory Commission. The previously independent watchdog group will have as its liaison a department staff member.

The pattern remained consistent last week, when state lawmakers handed the Marcellus industry an exceptionally savory slice of cherry pie: the lowest tax on natural gas production of any of the major gas producing states. After about six weeks of secret meetings with the gas developers, and in a market where a severance tax of about five percent is the norm, the lawmakers passed an impact fee that amounts to about 1.5 percent.

The fee likely will be less than 1.5 percent when some counties opt to forgo the voluntary fee in favor of counting the money drillers will put into upgrading county roads – roads required for access to the drilling fields.

The Marcellus development industry has, indeed, created jobs in Pennsylvania, though one might wonder how many waitresses and motel caretakers will be needed when the wells are drilled and the drillers head back to Texas, or Oklahoma, or wherever the next big gas or oil strike is found.

If jobs are really what we want, we should be looking to the future. Any jobs which can be done cheaper overseas are gone. Do not expect China to surrender its lock on assembling those tablets and cell phones we all love, and in many cases have learned to not live without. Likewise, the customer service jobs where you call someone named “Paul” about your cell phone bill and “Paul” talks with an accent remarkably like someone from another country – and if you ask, he doesn’t at all mind telling you he is in Bangladesh.

I’ve nothing against “Paul.” He helped me when I needed it. But that’s a previously “American job” that will never return to America. Our jobs of the future are yet to be created.

So, in his 2012 budget proposal, Gov. Corbett cut funding for education.

When he presented his proposal earlier this month, he touted an increase in public Basic Education Funding, and he was correct; the group of education funding categories including Basic Education Funding, School Employees’ Social Security, Pupil Transportation, Nonpublic and Charter School Pupil Transportation would increase about 0.34 percent, according to the state Department of Education website.

A few days later, however, the governor much more quietly admitted his budget would cut funding for other state educational funding sources, such as charter school tuition reimbursements and the Accountability Block Grant.

The result is about $1.5 billion net reduction in state support for public education.

Meanwhile, the state ranks last among its neighbors in percent of students earning post-secondary degrees, and is positioned securely in the middle of the national college graduate standing. Yet Corbett wants also to chop 30 percent off funding to the state higher-education system.

Meanwhile, Corbett announced last week he did not have a legal reason to block a $2 million state grant for a library honoring former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter – even though during his campaign, the then-wannabe governor held the project up as an example of wasteful spending.

If we believe many of the new jobs will be created by advances in the environmental and alternative energy fields, we also may believe our leader is not concerned that the new crop of engineers, scientists and other environmental industry job makers come from the ranks of Pennsylvania students.

Corbett’s funding philosophy reminds me of the late, great, Ronald Reagan, and a heck of an actor was he. Under his administration, the policy was to cut as many federal programs as possible. Unfortunately, that meant passing the buck, er, funding responsibility, to the states. Federal requirements did not go away; only the money.

I did not live in one of the seven states that did not feel the searing pain when the Reagan/Dot-Com decade was ended. Instead, I was in one of the 43 where local taxes increased significantly; homeowners were unable to sell their abodes, even at prices well below what they paid; and U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, of Maine, boasted of spearheading through Congress an extension of unemployment benefits.

I was in a store talking with the owner when the news came through the door with a customer. The store owner said he would simply pass on the cost to his customers, and when they decided to stop paying, he would fire his help.

Sound familiar?

When you reduce state spending by eviscerating funding to K-12 public schools, you simply force local districts to try to raise taxes. (The district in which I live elected a slate of board members who ran on the promise there would be no increase in local school taxes. I wonder how long that will last.)

When you slice into state spending by chopping away at post-secondary school funding, you force students and their families to plunge into debt even father than they otherwise would, to get a degree that, in the short term, promises them nothing.

Increase funding to the fossil fuel industry – by reducing or eliminating their taxes and “job-killing” regulations, and they show large short term profits and long term damages to the place we call home.

Thomas Jefferson often is credited with saying, “The key to our survival as a nation is an educated electorate.”

But an educated electorate is exactly what many of our politicians seek to avoid, lest we notice they are spending their time on such weighty matters as declaring 2012 “The Year of the Bible,” proving they not only have not read the Constitution of either the U.S. or Pennsylvania, but that many of them had not even read the resolution they adopted.

We need to make the industries that grow fat on our resources share with us a portion of the treasure, and we need to put some of that money into educating our future lawmakers and job takers.

To fail in either is to fail our grandchildren, in whose hands we oft claim our future resides.

Photo by The Rick Smith Show
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- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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