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It's time to lead, Governor

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:03 p.m.

Gov. Tom Incognito, er, Corbett suddenly is everywhere. Seems his handlers have decided to make him more available to the media after two years of relative cloisterism, at least where regular, extended and meaningful Fourth Estate interaction is concerned.

While that's a good thing for the public, it does present some challenges for a governor who's far from the camera hound that predecessor Ed Rendell was and a fella who always prefers to let his actions speak louder than any words.

But Mr. Corbett's “everyman” persona cuts both ways — viewed by some as a convenient way to dodge the tough issues.

Take, for instance, the state pension crisis.

Monday last the Corbett administration issued a report warning that the $41 billion unfunded liability of the State Employees' Retirement System and the Public School Employees' Retirement System could lead to financial catastrophe — higher taxes and borrowing costs, program cuts and retarded economic growth.

Add $25 billion to the hole in a mere nine years if no action is taken.

It's a mess of Harrisburg's making — legislative pension-jacking with constitutional protection barring reductions, cost-of-living increases and deferred state contributions that delayed piper paying for years.

It's a toxic brew that boils and bubbles and, as noted, is sure to cause all kinds of troubles. It's a pestiferous problem that screams for leadership.

And what did Penn's Wood get from Corbett? No specific recommendations, spokeswoman Christine Cronkright told the Trib's Deb Erdley. The administration can't “develop solutions in a vacuum,” she said; “the next step is concerted work, with the Legislature and other stakeholders.”

That's all fine and dandy — if you're into boilerplate flackdom gobbledygook and a Republican-controlled state government, particularly a non-delivering GOP-led House and Senate, that has woefully underperformed (and that's being charitable).

What's that line again from Corinthians? “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”

Frankly, the governor's pension passivity gives the impression that he's in over his head.

Goodness gracious, it's not as if Corbett doesn't have a wealth of resources from which to draw input for everything from a basic outline for pension reform to a quite detailed step-by-step plan that he can push. Think of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. Think of the Commonwealth Foundation. Think of the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors. And on and on and on.

“The governor does have to provide leadership,” says Jake Haulk, a Ph.D. economist and president of the Allegheny Institute. “The Legislature will never deal with difficult problems unless pushed and even then only rarely.”

That would be a Legislature that, institutionally over the decades, specializes in self-dealing, no matter what party's in the majority.

“After getting burned on school choice and liquor store sales, it appears the governor has no confidence that anything he recommends will get anywhere on this issue,” Dr. Haulk adds.

But now is no time to be a shrinking violet. Tom Corbett has to take to the everyman pulpit. He first, and repeatedly, must explain in simple language how Pennsylvania's pension path is not sustainable and that — sans commonsense and long-overdue reforms (primarily switching to defined-contribution plans for new hires, de-cudgeling organized labor and further shrinking government) — financial ruin awaits us all.

Then he must publicly, and repeatedly, challenge the Lollygags of the Legislature to stop their cluster-clucking and do their duty.

It's time to lead, Governor. Pick up that trumpet. And give Pennsylvanians more than just spittle.

Colin McNickle is the Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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