Corbett promises fiscal discipline, responsible government as he takes oath
HARRISBURG — After taking the oath of office as Pennsylvania's 46th governor today, Tom Corbett vowed to push government reform and “dedicate each and every day over the next four years to fiscal discipline and a responsible, limited government.”
The Shaler Republican said he is taking the reins of state government from Democrat Ed Rendell at “a generational moment,” and called for the courage to face tough financial decisions and not push costs off to sons and daughters and grandchildren.
Pennsylvania faces an estimated $4 billion budget deficit that will require much of Corbett's attention during his first months in office. Other priorities include legislative reform, school choice, curbing lawsuit abuse and selling the state liquor stores.
Rendell, who raised taxes and tapped Wall Street repeatedly to raise money for grants to businesses and nonprofits, said Corbett's tenure will prove a stark contrast.
"The people in the next couple of years are going to see what happens with a government that doesn't raise revenue," said Rendell, who attended the ceremony. "Gov. Corbett doesn't have any choice, this is what he ran on. I don't think you're going to see anything close to the level of business and nonprofit growth you've seen over the eight years."
Job growth is the No. 1 priority, said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, 41, of Bucks County.
Corbett, 61, said he and Cawley are "dedicated to leadership that is responsive to fiscal realities, leadership that takes on financial burdens, rather than passing those burdens on to the next generation.”
Corbett was "strong, tight, clean and on message," said Tim Reeves, onetime press secretary to former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge.
“He has as many challenges as any incoming governor I know,” said state Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Beechview Democrat, as he walked down a street in front of the Capitol on his way toward St. Patrick Cathedral, where Corbett and his wife, Susan, celebrated Mass.
“I think he's up to the challenge. He's picked a class A team,” Wagner said.
Donald Lacek, 56, a Bethel Park Republican, sat beside Wagner in church and attended the swearing-in ceremony.
“It's going to be very difficult,” said Lacek. “We need to control costs, and we need to belp businesses to grow.”
Karen Deklinski recalled an old joke about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
“Everybody has to work on this together,” said Deklinski, 53, a Penn Hills native who owns a retail store in Cumberland County.
Corbett, who was elected twice as state attorney general, also said it's time to “renew people's trust in government.
Corbett stayed on message despite a loud protest by environmental protestors that could be heard throughout the ceremony.
More than 100 opponents of Marcellus shale drilling – including Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields -- marched from Walnut Street at Commonwealth Avenue to a spot about 400 feet behind the risers, where they were permitted to protest. Shields took issue with Corbett's campaign pledge to veto a tax on natural gas extraction, saying the money that would come from such a tax will have to come from cuts to things such as education and infrastructure.
“Gov. Corbett has a lot of problems on his hands. He's not a Republican now; he's not a Democrat. He's the governor,” Shields said. “I'm from Pittsburgh. We'll help anybody ... But we're not going to help them turn the state over to corporate interests.”
Chanting “Tom Corporate, no way, no fracking in PA,” and blowing whistles and speaking through bullhorns, the protest made it hard for some in the stands to hear Corbett's inaugural address.
The protesters chanted and whistled through introductory speakers, a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, which couldn't be heard in the protesting crowd. They stopped to sing The Star-Spangled Banner with those in the stands, then resumed chanting and booing as Corbett took the oath of office.
“We're going to let him know we're going to keep him under a microscope. It might not affect him, but there's an entire House and Senate and we can work the system,” said Veronica Coptis, an anti-drilling activist from Mt. Pleasant in Westmoreland County. “If we don't lobby, all they hear from are industry lobbyists.”
Corbett says he'll enforce the law, but he opposes taxing the extraction of natural gas and doesn't want to stunt the industry's growth. He opposes a moratorium on drilling, as did Rendell. Gas companies drilled more than 2,500 Marcellus shale wells during Rendell's tenure.
Across state government, "We must restore transparency, accountability and fiscal discipline," Corbett said. "But we will move forward with government and legislative reform because without it there is no good government.”
Until Corbett nominates a successor as attorney general, and until that person wins Senate confirmation, William H. Ryan of Delaware County, his first deputy, by law will serve as acting attorney general.
Corbett didn't specifically mention the legislative bonus scandal that so far resulted in guilty pleas and convictions from 10 Democrats including former House Minority Whip Mike Veon of Beaver Falls. But, he said, "government has spent beyond its means and individual corrput acts have eroded an essential element of leadership -- the public's trust."
Corbett called for building an education system that competes not only with other states but other nations.He has said he will push the use of vouchers for school choice.
The bible on which Corbett swore the oath of office was William Penn's personal bible, printed in 1698. It was brought in from its storage site in Philadelphia on Friday. The bible was used by former Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh (1979-86) the last person from Allegheny County elected governor.
To date, Corbett's team has not released the cost of the inaugural, which includes a ball tonight at the State Farm Show complex. Aide Kirsten Page said no tax dollars are being used. The Inaugural Committee intends to reimburse state and local police for overtime incurred as a result of today's events.
Corbett defeated Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, a Brighton Heights Democrat, in the November election.