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New governor vows to dedicate himself to fiscal discipline

| Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

HARRISBURG — Tom Corbett walked through the East Wing of the state Capitol, toward his inauguration as Pennsylvania's 46th governor, and stepped outside through a doorway marked "Employee."

About 1,000 of his employers awaited in the cold, gray mist, in two crowds divided by space and ideology. Those closest to him cheered, and then quieted to hear what he had to say. Those farther away booed and chanted their own slogans, trying to drown him out.

Corbett, taking the reins of state government from Gov. Ed Rendell, said the transition happens at "a generational moment." During his first years in office, the state will grapple with closing a $4 billion deficit, regulating a booming gas drilling industry, reforming an education system and fixing a Legislature wracked by corruption investigations he conducted.

"We must restore transparency, accountability and fiscal discipline," said Corbett, a Shaler Republican who served two terms as state attorney general. "But we will move forward with government and legislative reform, because without it there is no good government."

"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 before the inaugural ceremony.

Karen Deklinski, who attended the inauguration, recalled an old joke: How can a person 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.

The severity of the state's budget crisis offers Corbett a chance to remake Pennsylvania's government, said Keith Rothfus, an Edgeworth attorney and former Republican challenger to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire of McCandless.

"It's a great opportunity. We've got to get the budget under control," and only major changes will do it, Rothfus said. "It can be done. You've got to exercise some leadership here."

Rendell, a Democrat who raised taxes and tapped Wall Street institutions repeatedly to raise money for grants to businesses and nonprofits, said his concept of government was to use such money as a catalyst for growth. Corbett's tenure will prove to be a stark contrast, he predicted.

"The people in the next couple of years are going to see what happens with a government that doesn't raise revenue," Rendell said. "Governor 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 (past) eight years."

During the campaign, Corbett listed the Department of Community and Economic Development, which hands out state grants, as a potential target for budget cutting. Senate Democrats agree on the need to review DCED programs but believe public investment can spur job creation, said Minority Leader Jay Costa of Forest Hills.

Job growth tops the administration's priorities, said Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, 41, of Bucks County, who was sworn in a little more than an hour before Corbett.

Persuading people to accept deep cuts to popular state programs will be among Corbett's first challenges, said former Gov. Tom Ridge. It's a clash of "political expectations versus economic realities."

"It gives him a chance to be bold," Ridge said. "You can't do it overnight. People will be patient. We didn't get into this in a year. We're not getting out of it in a year."

Federal dollars helped close budget gaps in recent years. With Republicans controlling the U.S. House and Washington lawmakers focusing on paying down the $14 trillion federal debt, such help will be tough to find, said U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr.

"There will be limitations. We're in a new chapter, so to speak," said Casey, D-Scranton, who spoke with Corbett about lobbying for federal help.

Corbett has criticized federal aid for enabling lawmakers to shrug off tough choices. He vowed yesterday to "dedicate each and every day over the next four years to fiscal discipline and a responsible, limited government."

To more than 100 opponents of Marcellus shale gas drilling — including Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields — who protested Corbett's inauguration, "limited government" is code for letting corporations run roughshod over the state. They rallied about 400 feet behind guests seated on risers and chanted loudly enough at times to make it difficult for people to hear public officials speaking.

Shields criticized Corbett's campaign pledge to veto a tax on natural gas extraction, saying such a tax could generate money that might prevent cutting budgets for education or infrastructure.

"Governor 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.

Gubernatorial inaugurals have a history of protesters — among them, HIV-AIDs activists seeking money for research and, at a separate swearing-in, supporters of convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who sits on death row.

Corbett opposes a moratorium on drilling, as did Rendell. Gas companies drilled more than 2,500 wells during Rendell's tenure. Protesters said they have no illusion that Corbett will stop drilling.

Their protest "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."

Until Corbett nominates — and the Senate confirms — his successor as attorney general, William H. Ryan Jr. of Delaware County, his first deputy, by law becomes 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 corrupt acts have eroded an essential element of leadership -- the public's trust."

House Democrats are working with the Republican majority on rules for legislators' perks, said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont. One proposal, he said, would require a legislator to sign a document saying he stayed overnight before collecting the $157 per diem.

"I think (Corbett) planted a flag a lot of people will follow," Republican former Gov. Dick Thornburgh said. "It's a cause that will generate public support. He has got to be true to his principles. He's got the public behind him."

But they won't wait forever.

"The people definitely want change," said Jim O'Connor, 52, of Hampton. "Something needs to be done, and we elected him to do it."

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Corbett Inauguration

Corbett Inauguration

Gov. Tom Corbett sworn in on Jan. 18, 2011.

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Ravenstahl stays away

HARRISBURG -- Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was a no-show at Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's inauguration Tuesday, unlike other Democratic mayors who attended.

Gubernatorial inaugurals draw politicians and lobbyists to shmooze with members of an incoming administration.

'It's something major public officials should attend,' said G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. 'It builds rapport. It may not get you the policies you want, (but) it contributes to building access.'

That's crucial for Ravenstahl, whose relationships with lawmakers in Harrisburg were rocky in the past. Like cities across the state, Pittsburgh's long-term finances are in precarious shape, and the state could decide to take over management of the municipal pension system.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter thought it was a good idea to attend the inauguration. So did Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson. They're both Democrats.

But Ravenstahl had 'previously planned personal time,' his spokeswoman Joanna Doven said, though she did not say where he was yesterday.

Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said local officials should attend an inaugural despite party politics. 'But ultimately that was the mayor's decision, and he would have to be the one to address that answer as to why he didn't attend,' Ferlo said.

He said Ravenstahl will have other occasions to visit the Capitol, 'especially for the governor's budget address' in March.

Allegheny County's Senate delegation attended except for Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, who took leave for medical reasons from Lt. Gov. James Cawley's oath in the Senate chamber. House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, attended Corbett's ceremony.

'It's important for cities and folks at all levels of government to be there and be part of this transfer of power,' Madonna said. 'It's a day when partisanship shouldn't exist.'

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