Who can forget the classic scene in Animal House when the boys from Delta fraternity were summoned by Dean Wormer? As he looked over their grade point averages, he menacingly barked the hard truth:
Wormer (to a drunk Flounder): "0.2… Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."
"Daniel Simpson Day… HAS no grade point average. All courses incomplete…."
And of course:
"MR. BLUTARSKY… ZERO POINT ZERO."
In the spirit of the legendary Dean, it’s now time to rate Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania House and Senate. Since all are Republican (with large GOP majorities in the legislature and the Governor a ten-point winner in November), it’s a no-brainer that Pennsylvania should be back on track, given the people’s mandate last year.
But as Blutarsky could tell you, being responsible and fulfilling your requirements feels so much like… work! And where’s the fun in that?
While politics has always been more style over substance, this time it seemed different. This time people had the legitimate sense that things would turn around, and life would get better in Pennsylvania….that they could actually trust their leaders to practice what they preached.
But opportunity after opportunity has been needlessly squandered, and those hopes are being dashed. Not because fighting the good fight has left our politicians spent and exhausted, but because these "leaders" have run state government, as Dean Wormer so eloquently said, in a fat, drunk and stupid way.
As a state agency, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) is funded by taxpayer dollars. While programs for the arts are certainly important, they are normally first on the budgetary chopping block, and for good reason. Political leaders realize that when dollars are scarce, the funding of other initiatives with greater overall value is a better investment.
Even former Governor Ed Rendell understood this, as the budget for the PCA decreased 45 percent over the last several years, with additional money being allocated for education and infrastructure.
So it was quite a shock to many Republicans in the House last week when the Chair of the PCA, siding with Senate Democrats, criticized the GOP for its proposed cuts to the agency. "The arts budget is so small in comparison with the rest of the budget… I was disappointed to see House Republicans slash it by 70 percent," she publicly said.
But it’s not the criticism of the cuts that has many in the GOP fuming. It’s the fact that Governor Corbett has passed the buck, making them do the heavy lifting that he consistently promised to do, but on which he has failed to deliver.
How so? In Corbett’s budget proposal, the PCA’s budget remains virtually unchanged, yet he wants to slash higher-ed spending by 52 percent. How is that remotely close to "everybody feels the pain?" It’s not, which is why it’s an impossible sell.
Here’s the killer. Not only does the Governor lose credibility for himself and his Party by not following through on his shared sacrifice mantra, but, specifically, guess why the PCA’s budget didn’t get cut?
Could it be that its Chair is none other than Sue Corbett, First Lady of Pennsylvania?
So let’s get this straight. The Governor chose not to cut the budget of the agency his wife chairs — forcing the House GOP to do it. And now, because the First Lady doesn’t like that, she chastises the Republicans who are actually exercising the fiscal restraint championed by the Governor (but seemingly only during the campaign), making the House R’s out to be the bad guys.
Not exactly a smart way to endear yourself to the very people who have to pass your budget.
This momentum-killing message is echoing across Pennsylvania: the Governor only wants shared sacrifice so long as his family, friends and pet projects are exempt.
Maybe that’s why he has signed no significant legislation (unlike his counterparts in Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey) and remains rudderless, weighted down by a 30 percent approval rating and unable to extricate himself from a political quagmire of his own making.
Freindly Fire rarely makes political predictions three years out, given that in politics, three months can be a lifetime. But Tom Corbett has thus far blazed a course for the history books, possibly destined to do what no Pennsylvania governor has ever done: lose after just one term. And don’t think for a second that State Treasurer Rob McCord — the Dem’s best shot — isn’t reading the tea leaves.
Oh, we’ve heard all the rationales:
"He’s a prosecutor." Hey, that’s great — if you’re Attorney General. But you are Governor, and timelines are not dictated by depositions and court dates. They are initiated by the immediate need to correct the massive problems facing your constituents — problems that, if not soon fixed, will send the state over the cliff.
"He’s just trying to get the budget done, and after that’s done, things will roll." Wrong. One doesn’t just flip a switch and begin governing. Ask any insider on either side of the aisle and he will tell you that the Administration is marked by two things: there are no adults running the show, and no one knows who’s in charge.
Rating the House is easy, as it has done the job it promised to do. It passed the home defense Castle Doctrine; the EITC educational tax credit (giving more parents school choice); restrictions on abortion clinics (in the wake of the horrendous Dr. Kermit Gosnell story); the Fair Share Act (limiting a defendant’s liability in a lawsuit to only his share of blame), welfare reform bills, and a gaming bill that would transform the Bureau of Investigations and Enforcement into its own police agency, free from the political influence by the Gaming Control Board. And two bona fide school choice bills are being introduced by Rep. Curt Schroder.
Not bad….even Dean Wormer would be impressed. GRADE: B+
The Senate is just as easy to rate — with opposite results. Their sole achievement has been sitting on House-passed legislation. In fact, it has become known as the DOA chamber since its members have repeatedly stated that House bills are "dead on arrival." The EITC (sponsored by Rep. Tom Quigley), Fair Share Act (Rep. Schroder) and gaming bill (Rep. Mike Vereb) are just a few of the victims. Of the bills the House has passed, NOT ONE has seen the light of day in the Senate.
One sad result? It was just announced that a Catholic school is closing in Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi’s Delaware County district. One has to wonder that if the Senate hadn’t played games with the EITC expansion bill — which passed the House 191-7, and would have enabled parents to receive privately-funded scholarships via participating businesses — maybe the school would still be open, and the taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for educating 100 more students in public schools.
And why was it held up? So that Senate Bill 1, a low-income school choice bill with absolutely no chance of passing, could be kept alive in the Senate. How Pileggi sells that to his constituents is anyone’s guess.
GRADE: F — kind of like Flounder’s 0.2 GPA.
But now we get to Tom Corbett — the Blutarsky of Pennsylvania. Thus far, he receives a 0.0 GPA because it’s been one failure of leadership after another.
– Like Rendell, he used The People’s Money to bail out the private Philadelphia Shipyard so that it could build ships — with no buyers!
– Like Rendell, he decided to use $20 million of taxpayer money to renovate the Yankees’ minor league ballpark in Scranton — yes, the same Yanks organization that is the wealthiest franchise in America
– Told the media, "I’ve been down in Philadelphia a lot – you just don’t know about it," begging the question of whether he is, in fact, the nation’s first Spy-Governor
NOTE: the last time a governor held secret meetings regarding Philadelphia, it was Rendell’s effort to bail out the Inquirer and Daily News. Coverts ops are better left to the CIA
– Raised the salaries of his staff, who now average $13,000/year more than counterparts under Rendell
– Wants to raise the Lt. Governor’s budget by nearly 50 percent
– Put forth no solution on his mega-campaign promise to privatize the state liquor stores— providing huge momentum to the clerks’ union
– Was perceived as untruthful concerning his state car. In responding to a media question, he said he was still using Rendell’s former car, but failed to mention that he was taking delivery of four new SUV’s that same day— at a cost of $187,000
– Took elimination of collective bargaining off the table — before negotiating with the state employee unions — without getting anything in return
– Has not addressed the ballooning pension bomb threatening Pennsylvania’s solvency
– Made no attempt to stop the 25 percent toll increase at the Delaware River Port Authority
– Stacked the DRPA and PRPA with contributors, lawyers, lobbyists and political insiders
– Was silent on the controversy involving his Secretary of Health— who didn’t like the eggs he was served at a longtime Harrisburg eatery — and never responded to the owner’s request for justice after the Secretary abused his power
– Did not fill his cabinet for months, despite the 11 weeks of transition time after the election, putting a hard stop to policy initiatives
– Did not hold a press conference for a similar amount of time, becoming known as "Governor MIA"
– Killed Right to Work legislation when a top aide stated that it could never pass in Pennsylvania — infuriating GOP legislators who were circulating such legislation
– Was absent on the school choice front, helping to throw that issue into complete disarray — to the delight of the teachers’ unions, who didn’t have to lift a finger in opposition
– Made no attempt to bring business and labor together in calling for a reduction in the nation’s second-highest corporate income tax — a quantifiable job killer
– Infuriated the press by locking them out of an event to which they were invited
– Has made no attempt to increase demand for clean, low-cost natural gas to power state building and cars, instead establishing a "Blue Ribbon" commission to study the obvious.
In short, Tom Corbett has made former Governor Tom Ridge look like Chris Christie. In refusing to use his office as a bully pulpit and barnstorm the state to sell his ideas, Corbett has allowed himself to be perceived as weak and disorganized. And weakness invites aggression, nowhere more so than politics. So now he finds his agenda under attack not just by the Democrats, but his own Party.
As bleak as it is for the Governor, it’s not over yet. As Blutarsky said, "Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
It’s not too late for Tom Corbett to right his ship, though it will take massive political will from him to do so. But with every day that goes by without that leadership, his journey becomes that much more difficult.
The fall usually sees a relatively light legislative calendar, so the window to push his vision will be narrow. And forget 2012, as legislators are loathe to take up any controversial issue in an election year — especially one that will see the Democrats, in all likelihood, take back five or more seats, even with the GOP’s redistricting advantages.
A wise man once said: If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree. The voters thought they did just that.
The open question is what kind of apple they really picked.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative
reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]