By Dave Lemery | Watchdog.org
Weeks after the governor’s budget address, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman still seems somewhat surprised by how much he liked what Democrat Tom Wolf proposed and eager to move forward to work with the administration on the issues where the two parties are currently seeing common ground.
At the same time, though, the Bellefonte Republican isn’t prepared to concede on issues where his party has real differences with the governor. And on still other issues, the 20-year state senator hinted that there are perhaps some topics where his own party needs to make up its mind before it can move forward.
Corman spoke Monday before the Pennsylvania Press Club and talked about what he sees as the direction of the state’s government and some of the most important issues that need to be addressed at the dawn of a new two-year legislative session.
As he did in the immediate aftermath of the Feb. 5 budget address, Corman complimented Wolf for hitting a number of issues that are consistent with Republican priorities.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit,” Corman told the assembled news professionals. “You know, after winning an election, particularly by the margin that he did, it would have been easy for him, I think, to track to the left – probably where he’s more comfortable – and propose a Green [New] Deal type of budget that had huge different components to it that would probably have fallen on mostly deaf ears in the Legislature and led us on a path to getting very little done.”
Among the parts of the governor’s budget address that Corman appreciated were the commitment to not raising taxes, the focus on workforce development, reducing onerous bureaucratic regulations and putting together a farm bill package.
“[Wolf] reached out, and I think it would be a mistake for us not to reach back and focus on the issues we agree on,” Corman said. “And we can. We have a tendency to spend all our time focused on issues we don’t agree on. Let’s focus on issues we agree on, and get things done and move forward, move Pennsylvania forward.”
One topic where the governor managed to attract Corman’s ire, however, was on the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana. Corman noted that during the gubernatorial campaign last year, Wolf had stuck with his long-held statements that the state wasn’t ready for full legalization, only to reverse course after he earned a second term and embrace the idea.
“I mean, this is a gubernatorial campaign issue,” Corman said. “This is something that should have been out there for public discussion.”
The majority leader said that given the newness of the state’s medical marijuana program and some of the bumps in the road already seen with that rollout, it was premature to move toward full legalization already. He expressed concern that full legalization could interfere with ongoing efforts to use medical marijuana as a way to combat the state’s rampaging opioid crisis.
When the conversation turned to tax reform, Corman came out strongly in favor of repealing the state’s corporate net income tax – one of the highest in the nation – but allowed that it might be necessary to do so in a phased-in manner so as not to lead to budget problems. And he said he supports property tax reform, at least in theory, but he suggested that it’s a topic with no clear resolution because any effort to reduce property tax burdens without replacing that revenue could leave municipalities and school districts in a difficult position.
“I, at a minimum, I would like to see school districts and municipalities get more options,” Corman said. “Right now, they are very limited in their options, which is part of the problem. That’s why the property tax is so onerous, it’s because that’s the only option they have. If each community could have a better menu of options to decide what is good for them, then that may alleviate some of the problem.”
As far as the governor’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour – from the current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour – Corman said that looking at an increase was probably a good discussion to have, but more than doubling the minimum wage would be too disruptive.
“I think four years ago [Democrats] were $10, now they’re at $15,” Corman said. “We couldn’t do that … I’m not sure that’s the direction to get to a compromise. … It’s like anything else, do you want the issue or do you want it accomplished? And if we want to get something accomplished, I think there’s ways we can go about doing it.”