Politics & Policy

Liveblogging the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Debate

Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato are holding their first televised debate tonight, moderated by the esteemed Ted Koppel in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The debate is being sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Battle ‘10 will provide ongoing coverage and commentary of the debate here. It can be seen live on PCN-TV in the Commonwealth.

So, the first half hour is being spent introducing the candidates and engaging in rather arcane, very business-centric discussion of “pain and suffering” legal liability. 

Notable is Onorato saying he does not support changing law that pending legislation would change, which would give trial lawyers the right to argue damages in closing argument.

The sponsor of tonight’s, the Chamber of Business and Industry, has spoken with Battle ‘10 about this previously, saying it would mean an immediate increase in insurance rates for all citizens.

Getting into the meat: Koppel poses incisive question on deficits and spending crisis, saying “there are three ways to address” ballooning deficits: “raising taxes, cutting spending, and printing more money. And we probably don’t want to print more money.”

8:29 — Corbett goes first, opting for a fourth solution: “I would cut the taxes,” says Corbett. Cites Winston Churchill, saying that “raising taxes to increase prosperity is like trying to pick up a bucket while you’re in it. We need to get our spending under control, but we need to get our taxes under control,” says Corbett.

8:35 — Onorato retorts, citing his experience as executive in Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania. He talks up seven balanced budgets, consolidation of government offices, and not raising property taxes. Onorato says it’s critical to make sure corporate tax structure is competitive, that regulatory agencies are business friendly, and won’t raise taxes. (Says “agencies should respond in four months rather than 2 years”).

8:39 — Onorato talks up early education funding as a means to prevent later criminality. Corbett qualifies by saying he doesn’t think the state is seeing improvement in quality of education and student retention. Both emphasize — again — they will not raise taxes.

8:41 — Koppel cites cost of imprisonment, saying in California a prisoner costs state roughly $40,000, or as he puts it, “enough to send a person to Harvard.” He asks Corbett how he feels about money spent on prisons, and particularly, “warehousing” in prisons where inmates are not rehabilitated.

8:42 — “The first rule of government is public safety,” says Corbett. “Waves,” since the 1960s, in terms of tougher and lighter enforcement, says Corbett. “One thing we can’t measure is how many did not become victims” thanks to higher incarceration rates, he says. “But we do need to develop programs, particularly for juveniles,” to rehab inmates.

8:44 — “The reality is with mandatory sentencing guidelines means everyone is immediately locked up,” says Onorato. “And some people are in prison,” for minor infractions. “Recidivism,” is the biggest problem, he says.

8:46 — Koppel moves on to Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves, and asks what it means for the state in terms of job growth and tax opportunity.

8:47 — Onorato says it’s the “greatest opportunity” for Commonwealth but says he supports “competitive severance tax” to fund Department of Environment Protection, fund a municipal impact fund to protect infrastructure, and preserve open space.

“I want Pennsylvanians to get those jobs,” says Onorato, of the potential 100,000 jobs a Penn State study projects could be created from tapping the natural gas formation. Says education needs to be leveraged to match job skills with job openings.

“Every single state that has oil and gas has a severance tax, even Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” says Onorato.

8:49 — “I’m the only one here who’s actually protected environment,” says Corbett. Cites his experience as attorney general, increasing penalties for pollution from misdemeanors to felonies. “We are on the very beginning of this industry,” says Corbett.

“In the beginning, we have 36,000 acres to a potential 500,000 acres to the industry,” says Corbett. Says licenses will mean revenue, and explains business presence from those corporations will ultimately mean economic boost for Pennsylvania.

8:51 — Shifting to overall tax climate, Onorato says he would lower the corporate income tax. Let certain other taxes phase out, and look at regulatory agencies. Competitive severance tax is his one exception, he says.

8:54 — Corbett laments physicians who have to practice “defensive medicine” due to failure to reform tort laws, aka legal liability climate in the Commonwealth. References conversation with Rick Perry in Texas about their reforms. “We have a growing deficiency of doctors here, and this is one way to fix it,” says Corbett.

8:57 — Onorato makes his closing remarks: “I’m the only candidate who has actually balanced my budgets seven years in a row. I’m very careful to streamline government and make it more efficient. We have to make sure we have a competitive business tax structure. … I have the experience, I have the discipline.”

8:59 — Tom Corbett says, “39 years ago, I was preparing to go away to basic training with the Army National Guard. Little did I know I would embark on a career” to protect people via the attorney general’s office.

“The next governor has to make tough decisions,” says Corbett. He cites New Jersey Gov. Christie and former Pa. Gov. Thornburgh as former prosecutors who have run effective offices. Corbett underscores job creation, and thanks the audience.

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