Magazine article The Progressive

Tom Corbett's Sharp Right Turn

Magazine article The Progressive

Tom Corbett's Sharp Right Turn

Article excerpt

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is facing a tough battle for reelection this fall.

He ran as a moderate in 2010, but ever since he took office, he's moved sharply to the right.

Mike Crossey was not terribly alarmed on Election Night 2010 when he heard that Corbett had won. After working thirty-four years as a public school teacher, most of them in special education in a community near Pittsburgh, Crossey was vice president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest union for teachers and public school employees. The teachers' union had actually endorsed Corbett in his prior races for attorney general.

Corbett ran for governor as a clean-government centrist who would take the politics out of Harrisburg and get things done. His resume even included one year as a high school civics and history teacher before he went to law school.

"That Corbett would govern as an extreme rightwing ideologue was not known to us then," Crossey, who is now the union's president, says. "He's gone completely off the ranch."

And he's kept on going.

"For a governor who is down twenty-two points in the polls, Corbett is keeping us very busy," Crossey said between sessions at this year's Pennsylvania State Education Association summer leadership retreat on the Gettysburg College campus.

After three-and-a-half years of attacking public servants and privatizing public service, Corbett is going after public pensions.

"To me, it's something that has to be done whether it's this year, or next year or the year after," Corbett said during a campaign appearance in Erie in July. He reiterated that he might call a special session of the legislature to deal with pensions before the regular session resumes in January, when he may no longer be governor.

The current Corbett-backed proposal would begin to replace the state's defined benefit system for teachers and other public employees with a 401(k). Research shows that the proposal would reduce pensioners' standard of living without saving the state much money.

Then again, saving money might not be the point.

Corbett signed legislation cutting taxes on businesses by about $1.2 billion.

"The governor could fund our schools and pensions both if he would enact legislation requiring Marcellus Shale drillers to pay a severance tax comparable to other states, and pursue revenue options that recoup some of the over $3 billion we give away each year to corporations," says Keystone Research Center executive director Stephen Herzenberg.

But Corbett doesn't want to get tough on corporations. Quite the contrary.

Immediately after taking office, Corbett slashed public education funding by $1.1 billion in the first budget he introduced. He threw his support behind the movement for for-profit charter schools and took virtually every opportunity he could to form common cause with the Tea Party Patriots and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

More than anything else, Corbett and his allies have taken up bill after bill from the ALEC library to attempt to create voucher schools, subsidize charter schools and cyber schools, demonize teachers, and weaken unions.

Vahan Gureghian, whose private company runs 150 charter schools in nine states, has given more than $330,000 to Corbett's campaigns. Gureghian was Corbett's largest campaign donor last time around and a member of Corbett's transition team and education committee. One of the education committee's co-chairs is Joel Greenberg, a hedge fund manager who is part of a group that started a pro-voucher political action committee with an initial bankroll of $5 million.

Public school students in Philadelphia and low-income school districts have been hit the hardest by Corbett. One-third of the cuts in Corbett's budget were to the Philadelphia school district, resulting in twenty-three school closings, the layoffs of more than 3,000 teachers and teacher aides, and increased class sizes. …

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