Everybody knows the narrative – in 2010, a sweeping election ushered in a number of ultra-conservative politicians to power nationwide – not only in the U.S. Congress, but in governor’s mansions and statehouses.
While governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida have captivated much of the headlines with their far-right policies, there are other, Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania is certainly doing his part to make things as hard as possible on his own citizens.
Corbett, the former Attorney General for Pennsylvania, came to power after defeating a weak candidate in the governor’s race in Dan Onorato, the county executive for Allegheny County, which contains Pittsburgh. Corbett took similar tactics to now-Michigan Governor Rick Snyder – hew closer to the image of a non-idealogue, as can be seen in his campaign website, which reflects a solutions oriented potential administration.
But once in office, Corbett made it obvious from day one what kind of business he meant from day one – and since then, it has shaped into a narrative that if you’re an energy company, this land is your land. If you’re poor or a woman, you’re on your ass.
Right now, the biggest headline maker is the Voter ID laws being upheld by state courts. These laws force Pennsylvania residents to provide state issued ID cards at polling places. According to state estimates, 750,000 voters in Pennsylvania lack proper identification. The plaintiff in the case contended that the poor and elderly will be most affected by these laws.
Most recently, Corbett stopped funding for low-income tax preparation programs. These state funds helped bolster capacity for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs nationwide, which provide free income tax preparation for families earning less than $50,000 in a tax year while avoiding the predatory lending practices of commercial preparers. Many of those coming through the doors of VITA programs are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. According to the Brookings Institute, in 2010 39 percent of filers claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit, originally a GOP initiative in the 1970s to incentivize work while creating a tax credit that helped the working poor make ends meet. This program has been increased by subsequent administrations since Ford enacted it in 1975. President George W. Bush, while governor of Texas and a presidential candidate, said that we shouldn’t balance the budget “on the backs of the poor.”
That last quote has a bit of irony – perhaps the GOP efforts to distance themselves from the Bush administration instilled the idea that we should, in fact, do just that. Certainly Corbett has taken it to heart, such as when he re-imposed a stringent asset test on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) recipients. Have more than $2000 in savings? Well you certainly can afford food – nevermind if those savings are all you have to your name. It’s not the only safety net program to feel the sting of Corbett. The General Assistance fund, which provided cash support to individuals and families in need, was eliminated entirely, as were state programs for the homeless, the elderly, those with disabilities and recovering drug addicts. AdultBasic, a popular state health insurance program for low income adults was eliminated, with enrollees being told to sign up for a private program that costs up to five times as much as AdultBasic. The AdultBasic insurance wasn’t funded out of the general tax fund, but instead through settlements from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
His budgets have cut spending on education by $900 million – forcing the Chester Upland school district in the economically blighted city of Chester to run out of money entirely before a judge intervened. It also forced the dissolution of the Philadelphia School District and provided charter companies with an opportunity to takeover those schools.
And thanks to Voter ID laws, many of those affected won’t be able to show their disgust at the polls.
But of course, Corbett’s draconian vision doesn’t end there. If you’re a woman trying to exercise your right to choose, you’re also screwed.
When trying to pass a fetal ultrasound bill amidst criticism from women’s groups, he simply told those seeking abortion services to “close your eyes” during the screening. That is, for those who can find a place to have the procedure done, thanks to Pennsylvania reclassifying abortion providers to ambulatory surgical facilities, subjecting them to minimum spacing laws that many of the 22 abortion providers in Pennsylvania won’t be able to accomidate. In fact, thus far, only 14 pass muster – and only one of those past 18 weeks.
So who isn’t hurting in Pennsylvania now? If you’re a natural gas extraction company, you’re doing just fine. Taxes can only be levied in and by affected counties – and no money for investigating potential environmental impacts. And according to the states own Public Utilities Commission, those meager drilling fees – which could economically bolster many of the hemorraging programs in the state – will lower more and more each year.