Pa. Governor's Guide: What You Need to Know

PW breaks down Dan Onorato's and Tom Corbett's platforms.

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Oct. 26, 2010

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Onorato’s website says his top priority is doubling the number of children in pre-K education over the next 10 years, claiming, “Every dollar invested in early childhood education generates between $7 and $17 in long-term benefits and savings to taxpayers.

“We’re losing kids by third grade, sometimes earlier,” Onorato says. “We need to get them earlier and early childhood education will pay for itself. If we can quit building jails that these kids end up in when they’re 16, 17, 18 years old…it’s a lot easier to finance them when they’re in kindergarten.”

Onorato wants to continue with Costing Out, a government-mandated study that seeks to understand “what it costs for all of our students—no matter where they live—to attain state academic standards.” Those standards mean mastering 12 academic areas and demonstrating proficiency on state reading and math tests by 2014.

After using factors like educators’ recommendations, determining costs of research-based reforms within individual districts and evidence-based student performance, the Legislature found that $21.63 billion was required, per year, to meet the state’s educational goals. As of 2005-2006, 94 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts were spending less than their adequacy levels. The top six percent of school districts in the commonwealth were spending a total of $188.8 million more than their adequacy levels. To counteract these factors, a funding plan was enacted in which the state share of education costs was increased, though does not yet meet the funding requirement.

And instead of supporting open-enrollment school choice, which allows families to choose a school—either public, private or charter—outside their ZIP codes using tax credits and public funds, Onorato’s limited-voucher plan would fund scholarships for low-income families and “innovative” public school programs.

The Education Voters of Pennsylvania is especially critical of Corbett’s position on school choice, which favors open enrollment. This strategy, Corbett says, would “link funding directly to students and the schools they choose to attend and make that funding transferable with the student.”

“If Tom Corbett is the governor,” says Gobreski, “people are going to have to send a strong message about public education. Most students in Pennsylvania are going to continue to be educated in the public system…it’s not going to change in the next four years or the next 10 years.”

Corbett also says he wouldn’t continue the implementations put forth through the state’s 2005-2006 Costing Out Study. Instead, he’d link students’ achievement to teacher compensation. “A system of accountability based on student performance forces schools to place students at the center of our educational system,” Corbett’s website reads.

But he’s vague about identifying “those schools that are in need of the most assistance.” The Republican’s plan seems to boil down to a results-based reality, in which statewide funding is retracted or awarded depending on those districts’ performance. His stance suggests bailout funds may be distributed when necessary but doesn’t explain how this would be determined.

Rendell has been able to keep funding for the Philadelphia School District high in spite of the budget shortfalls. The next governor, Scully says, will have a tough time continuing with Rendell’s education budget and may not have the same soft spot for Philadelphia.

The Budget

Corbett: Privatize certain industries, cut others
Onorato: Cut size of Legislature, Redistricting

The Legislature passed its 2010-2011 state budget on June 30. The budget’s cost was $28 billion and included millions in construction projects like honorary libraries for Sen. Arlen Specter and the late Rep. John Murtha at the state’s metropolitan bookends. Though such projects were funded, the state voted for the budget assuming the money would be available.

Rendell signed the budget before $26 billion for Medicaid and education funding from the federal government was passed in the U.S. Senate. Our share of the as-then-non-existent money was $850 million, and Rendell would spend months lobbying for it in Washington. In August, the Senate passed the bailout, 61-39, defeating a Republican filibuster. And though Rendell had spent time lobbying Congress seeking his share of the cash to save his state budget—which had passed on time for the first time in his eight years in office—he’d only get $600 million. This meant more cuts and 50 state employee layoffs on top of those that had already gone into the budget.

Before the mess ensued, Harrisburg-based research nonprofit Commonwealth Foundation wrote “A Taxpayer’s Budget 2010,” a report that found $4 billion in potential cuts to the state budget. The report recommends tactics such as privatizing liquor stores and eliminating what it calls “corporate welfare” (no-bid contracts, economic revitalization projects funded by the state, such as the Chester soccer stadium). During this election season, the Commonwealth Foundation has met with both candidates regarding its recommendations. Nathan A. Banefield, director of policy research at the Commonwealth Foundation, doesn’t say which candidate the organization supports (it is barred from doing so because of its nonprofit status), but does say this: On budgetary issues, Rendell has left the state a mess.

“In every way, [Rendell has] pushed the problems onto the next governor,” Banefield says. “From increasing the budget to the debt burden to delaying our mandated pension plan. These are all crises he’s leaving behind.” Banefield says Rendell has increased spending on all fronts aside from those he was forced to cut this year and in areas he didn’t increase spending, he spent on pensions.

It’s arguably the most important issue of the day and yet both candidates lack specifics about their own plans for cutting the budget. Though Corbett seems to have the edge on this one. Last week he announced his support of selling off the state liquor stores, claiming doing so would raise $2 billion for the state. “Given the current economic climate in Pennsylvania, state government can no longer be in the liquor store business,” he said in a statement. He also says terminating the Costing Out Study would save money, but it’s unclear how much.

“I would never pass a budget that included revenue that wasn’t real,” Onorato says of this year’s budget. “I’ve called for a change to the budget schedule. I want it done by May 15. That will give them 45 days to reconcile their differences. And if I’m governor and July 1 rolls around and there’s still no budget, no one gets paid. Period. I will make sure the Legislature doesn’t get paid until they do their job.” He has also called for downsizing the Legislature, which is the most expensive in the U.S.

As Allegheny County Executive, Onorato eliminated six elected offices, reduced the county workforce and consolidated “five 9-1-1 call centers into a single center that serves the entire county,” according to his website. These changes saved Allegheny County $21 million.

Onorato also says he’ll block all efforts by the Legislature to raise their own salaries. As they now stand, the Pennsylvania House and Senate have the fourth highest salaries in the country. Onorato says he would support bills that would cut the Legislature at least 20 percent by way of redistricting.

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1. SLAVIN said... on Oct 28, 2010 at 03:33PM

“perhaps the best suited for power are those that, without seeking it, have it thrust upon them and find that they wear it well...”

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