September 22nd, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry sponsored a debate between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, in Hershey. Dennis Owens moderated.
I taped the debate and the recording cut off during the last question so I missed the closing remarks.
These are my notes from the debate. It is not intended as a transcript. Interested voters are encouraged to review campaign websites for each candidate. I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.
Format: 1 min open and 2 min close, 2 min answer and 1 min rebuttal
Since both candidates have the same first name they are identified by last initial: C for Tom Corbett and W for Tom Wolf.
C: Good evening everyone. Thanks to chamber. Appreciate the opportunity to talk with Tom about the future of PA. Thanks voters for opportunity to serve as Governor and Attorney General. I believe in Pennsylvania. Think about two troopers shot and all law enforcement searching for shooter. Thanks to all.
W: Thanks moderator and chamber for sponsoring. I am an unconventional candidate. Don’t look like usual candidate. I’m running for a citizen democracy. We can do a better job running the economy.
Q1: Education. Dems and Wolf insist Corbett slashed education. He says he is spending more on education
W: We have seen real cuts in education. Look at what we see all around us. 20K educators lost their job, class sizes increase, property taxes going up. Parents having to pay money, fees, for their children to participate in sports and other activities. Not doing our job to delivery good education. Can’t throw money and expect a good outcome but have to invest. Important public good for all of us. Practical economic problem.
C: I would agree. We need to do better. We need to present a better Pennsylvania to my successor than I was given. Teachers’ unions putting out lie that I cut education. How do you do it? How do you reform it? We have already begun that reform, better teaching evaluation, better education report on administrators. We can tell how schools performing. Better metrics.
Q2: if more state money going to education why have more districts cut spending
C: Federal stimulus should not have been put in their budgets. Cost of pensions driven up property taxes. Cost of health care. Going to get much worse. Go up even higher with Obamacare. 20,000 educators a false number. Not all were teachers. Ask how we will invest not how much can we spend.
W: Again the proof is in the pudding. We have to do a good job providing a good education. Have to make sure schools work properly. We have to make sure this works. I care as much about the education Philadelphia school children get as the education my daughters got at our public school. We need accountability and a system that delivers on a good education.
Q3: 30 – 40% of budget, $27B spent on education in PA. How much is enough? What accountability can you offer?
W: Great question. We cannot throw money at any problem and get a good outcome. Have to have accountability. Right now we are not producing people we can employ. Some places doing a wonderful job, some places not. Need to prepare for jobs for 21st century. How much? I don’t know. Need a public education system that can deliver. Can’t hide behind false statistics. Embrace idea that it is something we need. Educated workforce, educated citizenry. $27B number need to figure out how to reduce property tax burden. Can’t give a number. At my company I ask employees. I would ask educators.
C: We are not that far apart. We agree that we need to make it better. We’ve already started process to make it better. Ask what is fair, started Fair Funding Commission. Is what is fair in Philadelphia what is fair in another part of the state. We could spend a lot of money. Part of the idea of the metrics is to ask if it is being well spent. Using school profiles to determine where it is being used wisely.
Q4: Taxes. You took a no tax pledge but won’t take it this time.
C: Everybody knows my record. Did not raise taxes. We know where Mr. Wolf is going to go. Everybody above $60K will be taxed more. Sales tax increase – everyone pays that. Energy tax, electricity tax, everyone pays that. Said I would run on fiscal discipline, [missed part of his remarks]. I have kept that promise. We made tough decisions. We were almost $29B in spending in my first year, including stimulus. Reduced number of people working for state government so it is the lowest in 50 years. Governor is steward of your money, from people making millions to people working for 5, 10, 15K years.
Q5: Was taking tax pledge a mistake?
C: No. It helped keep me focused, helped others stay focused. Transportation bill not a tax but removal of false cap. Seeing revenue come up but gas is cheaper than it was months ago. When children get on buses, people get on transit it is a public [missed this] to make roads safer.
W: For whatever reason things aren’t working. When I took my company back I had to make ends meet, make my company successful. Have to do that with state. Used to be at top of charts now near bottom in terms of economic growth. Not doing as well as we should. Fan of the private sector, come out of the private sector. I built a business. We need a government partner to make sure private entities and market work better.
Q6: What is your tax plan?
W: Reporter asked me the mathematics of how my plan would work. We need a flat tax, used 5% example, not my plan. Talking about a tax that is fair. Understand what state needs to do is set the table for private sector growth. Fairer tax system. Some people paying too much now. Have highest corporate income tax. That’s too high. Some people will have to pay more. Fair tax that doesn’t destroy economy. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder. I think I should pay more.
C: As Secretary of Revenue budget must have as much money coming in as going out. Has to be a balanced budget. Looking at his plans, increasing 50% of state’s share of education. We believe hi s plan would increase by 6B (M?). Give us your plans. Have a conversation about incorporating in Delaware not here.
Q7: What is your plan? Do we need a tax increase?
C: With me people know they will have someone who will fight to keep our spending as low as they can. With Wolf there will be some increase. This isn’t the first time we’ve had to borrow money against future earnings. Want to grow the economy. Have to deal with pensions. Will be 3.3B for pensions in 2017/2018 year. My predecessor did not completely fund the pension. We have to come up with 610B this year as we did last year.
W: We have to make ends meet. Two parts: keep expense in line and make numbers grow. Not routine to borrow 2.5 months in to new fiscal year. If as a business owner I had a cash balance that looked like the state’s right now no bank would have given me a line of credit. We have a pension problem. Need to adequately fund pension system. Governors past and present have not paid in to it. Balance goes up every year we do not pay our debt.
C: I’m surprised. We are actually talking about the same thing. Cost of business continues to grow. Revenues growing. No one grows by taxing. Where does he want to spend the money, how much does he want to spend. We could attract more businesses if we lowered corporate tax. Have to control spending first.
Q8: Marcellus shale. Refusal to have extraction tax, why?
C: We tax it differently. Higher corporate tax, higher personal income tax. Small businesses that supply the industry. Employees that earn good salaries. We did add a fee, an impact fee. Rendell said if tax shale we’ll get 100M a year. Impact fee first year brought in 200M dollars. Shared with communities and a little bit to the state. No other state has an impact fee on natural gas. Trying to grow new industry here in PA. High taxes don’t attract new business.
W: I too believe gas industry could be game changer for PA economy. I understand how taxes impact business. 5% severance tax could make a difference in state economy.
Q9: minimum wage
C: I support the federal level. I don’t want to see people have to work for minimum wage. That’s why I’m trying to change the education system. Encourage people to go into trades, high percentage of current workers are over 50. Created job website, showing 200,000 open jobs. People may not be trained, that ‘s our job to train them. Get people out of minimum wage job, get them training for a good family supporting wage job.
W: How are thing’s working out for us. Unemployment going up. Minimum wage should be increased, to 10.10 / hour. In my own business when I went back I raised our wage.
Q10: Look at your campaign donation, biggest donor other than yourself is unions.
W: My second largest donor is a private business donor. In primary did not get endorsement of traditional Democrats. Share profits with employees. Not indebted to anyone. Not pandering.
Q11: Polls show Wolf with a big lead.
C: Everybody makes mistakes. Probably haven’t communicated enough but I’ve made tough decisions.
[And that’s where the recording ended]