Pa. Governor Comes To Office With Big Agenda As part of our series on new governors taking office around the country, we head to Pennsylvania, where new Gov. Tom Corbett won office with a promise to reduce the budget deficit while not raising taxes.

Pa. Governor Comes To Office With Big Agenda

Pa. Governor Comes To Office With Big Agenda

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As part of our series on new governors taking office around the country, we head to Pennsylvania, where new Gov. Tom Corbett won office with a promise to reduce the budget deficit while not raising taxes.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're going to stay in Pennsylvania now for the last story in our series on new governors around the country. Republican Tom Corbett comes into office with a big agenda and a majority in the state legislature to help him get things done.

As NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports, Corbett promises to crack down on corrupt politicians and cut spending, while keeping taxes low.

JAMIE TARABAY: Tom Corbett came to office with a promise that stopped just short of read my lips.

Governor TOM CORBETT (Republican, Pennsylvania): We're not going to increase taxes. We're not going to increase fees.

TARABAY: Pennsylvania's budget deficit is almost $5 billion, and even those in the GOP wonder how he can address it. As Corbett took the oath of office last month, steady snow sinking into his bright white hair, he spoke in broad terms.

Gov. CORBETT: We must restore transparency, accountability and fiscal discipline. We will move forward with government legislative reform because without it, there is no good government.

TARABAY: He has promised at least one major plan: privatizing the state's liquor industry. Pennsylvania is one of the few states with a monopoly on alcohol. Past Republican governors have tried to push privatization before, but they couldn't get past powerful unions, a Democratic-heavy legislature and conservative Christian groups. Corbett, however, won't have any such problems himself.

The midterm elections gave Republicans in Pennsylvania their biggest majorities in both houses in decades. Corbett and allies like House Majority Leader Mike Turzai are confident the new state budget will be on time, and it will pass. Speaking inside the ornate state capitol building, Turzai is almost giddy talking about his new governor when compared to the man Corbett replaced, the larger-than-life Ed Rendell.

State Representative MIKE TURZAI (Republican, Pennsylvania): It'll be like, oh, I hate to say this, but it'll be like an adult taking charge, you know? Like, the whole Democratic administration under Rendell was just so indulgent on every front.

TARABAY: Democrats argue Republicans were just as responsible for overspending. And while Democrats, like Representative Josh Shapiro, say they plan to work with Corbett, they question how he'll pay for everything.

State Representative JOSH SHAPIRO (Democrat, Pennsylvania): You're looking, no doubt, at significant cuts to public education if you fulfill your promise not to raise taxes and to cut $5 billion.

TARABAY: Education makes up about 40 percent of the budget. Shapiro expects other social services like economic development programs and environmental protection to also take a hit.

State Rep. SHAPIRO: I think there's got to be compromise at the end of the day. There are many of my Republican colleagues who disagree with Governor Corbett's pledge not to raise taxes.

TARABAY: Corbett may not have a choice but to eventually raise taxes. Even if the liquor industry is privatized, Shapiro says that money may not even make it into this year's budget.

The administrative reforms Corbett has talked about, like cutting per diems for lawmakers, will probably amount to several tens of millions of dollars, not a big dent in a $5 billion hole.

Professor TERRY MADONNA (Franklin and Marshall College): The state faces some pretty severe shortfalls from various programs which normally would accrue to it.

TARABAY: Terry Madonna is a professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. He says Corbett has many financial problems: $2 billion in Medicaid money is gone. Federal transportation funds have disappeared, and the state's pension liability problem is $40 billion and growing.

Still, Corbett is sounding optimistic.

Gov. CORBETT: You will never hear me say impossible.

TARABAY: Again, Governor Tom Corbett in his inaugural speech.

Gov. CORBETT: To say it, or worse to believe it, would accomplish nothing. I see the possible, and I see a promising future for Pennsylvania.

TARABAY: Pennsylvanians will get to learn more about his plans next month, when Corbett gives his first budget address.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.

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