Gov. Tom "Secret Agent Man" Corbett is pursuing many of the same draconian budget and union-busting measures as more high-profile Republican governors, but since he so rarely holds unscripted press conferences or answers questions, I suppose the state's media gang figures there's nothing to cover!
Since taking office in January, Gov. Tom Corbett and his allied Republican majorities in the state House and Senate have been guided by two principles as they approach crafting a new budget: no proposal may exceed the $27.3 billion originally proposed by Corbett regardless of specific spending; any revenue derived from the booming natural gas industry must be dedicated to specific purposes rather than deposited in the general fund.
Corbett and legislative leaders view the general fund as a swirling, voracious black hole. Once public money enters the vortex, it is lost forever.
So any new revenue must be put in funds dedicated to specific purposes. Curiously, however, the rule does not seem to apply to existing funds with dedicated revenue streams.
One of the first acts of the administration, with tacit approval from the legislative majorities, was to eliminate state subsidized health insurance coverage for more than 40,000 low-income working adults under the adultBasic program. Instead, the state directed those needy workers to far less affordable skeletal plans offered by private insurances. Far fewer than 10 percent of the newly uninsured workers opted for the private plans, for which premiums range up to 500 percent of the premium under adultBasic.
Yet, a major part of the funding for adultBasic came from a dedicated revenue stream - Pennsylvania's share of the master settlement that states reached with the tobacco industry. In 2001 the state Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Ridge signed a law creating the Tobacco Settlement fund and dedicating the revenue solely to health-related purposes - including adultBasic.
This year the state is scheduled to receive $315 million in settlement funds. But instead of using the money for the dedicated purposes established by law in 2001, the administration plans to divert some of the fund for other purposes, including $220 million for a business loan fund.