By Bill O'Boyle
Tom Corbett may not be in a hurry to enact a severance tax on natural gas drillers, but if elected Pennsylvania's next governor, the current attorney general will begin immediately to reform state government.
Meeting Tuesday with The Times Leader Endorsement Board, Corbett, 61, said he would call for a special session of the state Legislature to address several issues.
He said he favors regulatory reform, tort reform, the elimination of walking around money and legislative per diems, reducing the size and cost of government, the implementation of new budgeting practices and the reduction of the state vehicle fleet by at least 10 percent.
"If I'm elected, I will first sit down with all four caucuses in the Legislature," Corbett said. "I think I can gain support for a special session. The legislators realize that reform is what the people want."
The Republican candidate said the state's business climate has to change.
"Government doesn't create jobs," he said. "Government creates the climate for job growth. Government needs to get out of the way."
Business development is high on his list, he said, and he wants to look at the state's corporate tax structure and tax credits.
He said his approach will be to first look at the state budget and see what can be cut. He said that once all cuts are made, then he would look at ways to increase revenues.
"We have to reduce spending -- reduce costs -- and see where we can save," he said.
Corbett favors a two-year budget cycle for the state, a move he said would save "a great deal." He said Pennsylvania has one of the most expensive legislatures in the country.
"Budgets don't change that much year to year," he said. "State staffers say they can't predict their needs two years out. I find that difficult to believe. The problem is we haven't been able to predict fiscal needs one year at a time."
Corbett said he will build consensus to reform state government. He would favor moving to a part-time legislature; he said the current cost of a full-time legislature and staffs is extremely high.
"It's what the people want -- clearly," he said. "I can work pretty well with people. Will we bang heads? Yeah, I guess sometimes."
Corbett favors consolidation of state purchasing and services. He said he knows the state better than his opponent.
"Pennsylvania needs a governor who will be governor for all of Pennsylvania," he said.
Corbett pledged to protect the state's environment -- especially when it comes to the Marcellus Shale gas drilling. He said he would get all parties to the table -- legislators, industry representatives, counties and municipalities, environmentalists and state regulatory agencies.
"We've got to get it right," he said. "We have to develop a plan so everyone knows what the rules are."
Corbett said as attorney general he has prosecuted environmental violators and he will always have protecting the state's natural resources at the top of his priority list.
"I oppose a severance tax," he said. "I oppose any new tax. I just don't like the word "tax.' "
He said the state is realizing revenues from the gas drilling industry and he said there are regulations in place to guard against environmental harm.
He said he wants to see Pennsylvanians hired by the gas companies, but he didn't think it was legal to somehow make hirings a part of the permitting process.
"Look, those people from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma don't want to be here in January and February," he said. "We can train our people to do the work in the gas fields. But we can't link permits to jobs."
Corbett said the donations he has received from gas companies will not influence his decisions, nor will it protect the firms from prosecution if they violate the law.
"Anyone who thinks otherwise is sadly mistaken," he said.
Corbett said he would hire an energy executive to coordinate an energy plan for the state for coal, natural gas, solar, wind and other sources.