By JOANN LOVIGLIO
Updated: 11/03/2010 08:00:14 AM EDT
Pennsylvania Governor-elect Tom Corbett says one of his first acts in office will be to lift a moratorium on Marcellus Shale gas-drilling permits on state lands — a move that would reverse a drilling halt imposed by outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tuesday night, shortly before he was declared the winner, Mr. Corbett sketched out plans for deep cuts in state spending, changes in everything from contract bidding to widening the budget-writing process by reaching past House and Senate leadership to the rank-and-file.
He said the voters’ message of Tuesday was fiscal discipline and Mr. Corbett said he would lay out one primary fiscal need: public safety.
“After you’ve got that funded properly then you start looking at everything else and asking ‘what do we have left?’ ” he said.
As to the moratorium on gas drilling on state lands, Mr. Corbett declared Gov. Rendell’s moratorium order blatantly wrong.
“These people bought these leases with an expectation of being able to drill as long as they adequately presented papers to get their permits and they ought to be able to get their permits,” he said.
The Corbett campaign ran on a mantra of fiscal discipline accompanied by a pledge to enact no new taxes. It came in an election that closed shortly before billions in federal stimulus dollars were set to stop flowing to states, a cut that is likely to exacerbate an already struggling post-recession state budget.
He and Republican leaders hope to privatize the state’s liquor store system — a longstanding GOP legislative goal that has failed to gain traction over the past 30 years. Still, he says that effort is on the table.
State Rep. Mike Turzai, currently the Republican Whip and in line to move up the ladder if the GOP takes control of the state House, said he is convinced the move would bring a quick $2 billion in licensing revenue with liquor tax revenues of $375 million.
“It’s going to happen,” Mr. Turzai pledged Tuesday night at the Corbett victory party.
Mr. Corbett, ensconced in the Presidential Suite at the Omni William Penn Hotel’s 16th floor, said he was expecting significant savings from a range of cuts and changes in operations.
“You’re going to see us make sure that government is open. We’ve had a lot of no bid contracts in the last couple years,” he said. “A lot of sole-source contracting was going on. In some cases it may be appropriate for sole-source, but most cases you certainly have to question the need for a sole-source. We’re going to lead by example.”
Aside from changing contracting practices in the governor’s office, he is hoping to persuade legislators to reform their own efforts as well as cut drastically into a bleeding state budget.
“We’re going to cut the spending because we don’t have the money,” he said.
One of the major questions still hanging in the political air is Mr. Corbett’s likely relationship with a Legislature he targeted with widespread corruption prosecutions in the investigation that came to be known as “Bonusgate.”
Among those charged were state Rep. H. William DeWeese, a former Democratic House speaker, and state Rep. John Perzel, one-time Republican House speaker.
The Bonusgate prosecutions brought Mr. Corbett widespread celebrity but also prompted accusations that he was criminalizing what had been standard politics in Harrisburg. His relationship with the same bodies he has targeted — and, according to his own statements last month, continues to target — will play a significant role in passing an austerity budget.
“If I haven’t indicted them, most of them I get along with,” he said of the Legislature. “One of the things you have to do is this governor never sat down with individual legislators, did he? He always sat down with leadership. We’re going to sit down with everybody. Both sides of the aisle, both houses, between the time that we win the election, the time we’re sworn in and before the time of a budget process. We’ve got to get on the same page here. It’s clear that we do not have the money and there is no will in the people for a tax increase.”
Mr. Corbett has also run on a platform of job creation, a common political promise but rarely easily fulfilled by mere political will.
Tuesday night he promised a change in the state’s regulatory process, notably permits from agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection. He said regulations themselves are not so much the problem as inconsistent application from region-to-region.
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