Pa.’s Tom Corbett runs like a Democrat

     (Electronic Image via Youtube video)

    (Electronic Image via Youtube video)

    Is Tom Corbett still a Republican?

    No doubt, but his latest campaign ad (above) would play well if he were competing in the Democratic primary.

    It’s a soft and warm 60-second spot which casts Pennsylvania’s governor is a big booster of education and education spending. The ad places the governor among an ethnically diverse mix of schoolchildren and pictures him and his wife, Susan, with the African-American child their daughter adopted.

    Maybe I shouldn’t bring that up, but pros well tell you none of the images in political commercials are left to chance. This is an ad that seems designed to play well among Philadelphia Democrats and independents.

    “Tom and I were both teachers, and so education is really important,” Susan Corbett says in the ad, “and we know that’s the key to success. He’s increased spending in the education department $1.5 billion over what it was when he came into office.”

    Corbett has made that claim, which Democrats and school-funding advocates denounce as bogus, before.

    But what puzzled me was that Corbett would be bragging about boosting government spending of any kind now that he has a Republican primary opponent who will spend the next five weeks denouncing him as a tax-and-spender.

    Commonwealth Court has rejected an effort backed by the state Republican Party to knock conservative Ardmore businessman Bob Guzzardi off the ballot. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is pending.Pittsburgh political analyst Jon Delano says the reason for Corbett’s ad is pretty simple: Polls show voters see him as weak on education, and he has to address that to win in the fall.

    “He’s got a long ways to go,” Delano said. “There’s plenty of time to turn things around, but it makes perfect sense to me that he would start now and not wait until October.”

    Corbett has about $6 million in his campaign war chest, more than all but one of the Democratic hopefuls, York businessman Tom Wolf.

    Is Corbett really a friend of public schools?

    It’s just remarkable to hear veteran school-funding advocates talk about the $800 million cut to public schools Corbett imposed, and hear the Corbett administration insist he increased funding to the highest levels ever.

    “It depends on how you define `education,'” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. “All these things are a function of definition.”

    Cooper knows something about the subject. She was a public school advocate for years, then Gov. Ed Rendell’s policy director in the years before Corbett took office. So while she brings a lot of knowledge, she also brings the perspective of a Democrat and a school-funding advocate.

    After having spent a fair amount of time staring at numbers and spreadsheets from both sides, it’s fair to say you can find a set of figures that show higher spending by the Corbett administration in some education categories.

    It’s also true that the disappearance of federal stimulus funding after Rendell left office left holes the state didn’t fill, and that, under Corbett, the state eliminated a category of charter school reimbursement to school districts.

    It’s also true that when Corbett claims higher spending on education, he includes larger pension contributions, which past governors didn’t count in their calculations of education spending. The Corbett team says those contributions are real money and will contribute to the long-term stability of schools.

    The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center calculated that Corbett’s first budget left schools with $860 million less than the year before. You can read their analysis here. You can read the Corbett administration’s explanation for its claim of a $1.5 billion overall education spending increase here.

    We’ll be addressing this subject in more detail as we approach the general election.

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