By Tom Rickert
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Republican governor Tom Corbett and the challenger who wants to unseat him, Democratic nominee Tom Wolf, sparred this morning in a debate at the CBS Broadcast Center in Philadelphia.READ MORE: SEPTA Union Unanimously Approves Strike If Deal Isn't Reached
During the debate, moderated by KYW Newsradio special contributor Larry Kane, Corbett and Wolf fielded questions on issues such as pension reform, Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law, fracking, jobs, and the economy.
The topic that kicked off the debate and generated the most questions from the panelists (KYW Newsradio reporter Cherri Gregg and CBS 3 news anchor Chris May) remains a hot-button issue in Philadelphia and a cornerstone of both campaigns so far: public education.
Wolf told Corbett that the current administration has put education on the back burner.
“It’s a matter of priorities, governor. You have not been a friend of education,” Wolf said. “Property taxes have gone through the roof. Class sizes have increased.”
Wolf said he sees other problems in the education system that do not paint a rosy picture for Pennsylvania’s schools.
“People in many schools are paying to have their kids participate in extracurricular activities,” Wolf said. “Services have been cut. I’m not sure how you can look at what’s happened in public education in Pennsylvania and say that you’ve been a friend to education, that things are better. They’re not.”
Corbett responded that he wasn’t the one who cut education funding. “As people learn — that, contrary to what the public sector unions have put out there, that I cut education, that Ed Rendell cut the state funding to education and replaced it with one-time stimulus money that ran out in 2011, June the 30th. My first budget was July 1, 2011,” Corbett said.
The governor said he believes that schools are better off today than they were four years ago.
Wolf pointed out the increase in property taxes overall as a low point of the Corbett administration. Corbett responded, saying there’s a reason property taxes have increased.
“I don’t understand how you can ignore the pension crisis,” Corbett said. “It is the driving force — it is the cost driver for every school district in Pennsylvania. Every one. You talk to a school district, you talk to a school district director, any one. There are three items: salaries, the pensions, and special education. The federal government reduced our special education funding. It was supposed to be around fifty percent. Over the years they reduced it to seventeen, eighteen percent. I’m the first governor in a few years to put any money back in to special education.
“The pension system is costing the state of Pennsylvania an additional $610 million dollars each year, new,” Corbett continued. “$3.3 billion of the state budget is going to be pension. That is replicated by all the school districts, they have to pay into that. The school districts are the ones that raise the property tax, and 163 of those school districts cite the pension as the reason they’re raising the property tax. That is where the problem is.”
Tom Wolf was asked to respond to Governor Corbett’s statements and give examples of what he would do differently to bring resources directly to the classroom.
Wolf said he’s been in schools in Philadelphia that lacked basic items like toilet paper, not to mention educational resources. “What I would do, and I’ve talked about this throughout the election, I would propose a 5% severance tax,” he said, referring to a tax that would be paid by gas-drilling companies. “Some of that money would go back to the localities allowing drilling, some of that would go to the Department of Environmental Protection, but hundreds of millions of dollars of that could go to fund education.”
Wolf said he would change the formula that’s currently used for charter schools, emphasizing a fair-funding model that he said would save hundreds of millions of dollars. “I think it could be done pretty quickly. If you pass those bills, if you get those things put into place — The 5% severance tax would take some legislation, the other things could be done pretty quickly.”
Corbett went on to say that under his administration, Pennsylvania’s economy is better than ever.
“What we do see is the economy getting better,” he said. “Take a look. The Central Penn Business Times reported yesterday on the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Fifty-seven percent of businesses, for the first time ever, felt we were either ‘good’ or ‘excellent,’ with the economy coming back. That’s a first.”READ MORE: Double Shooting In Eastwick Kills 25-Year-Old Man, Wounds Pregnant Woman: Police
Wolf, on the other hand, said the state has a big cash problem.
“If I had a cash-flow balance in my business like the state does, there’s no bank that would give me a line of credit,” Wolf said. “We’ve been downgraded by three objective bond-rating agencies: Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, Fitch. And what they’re saying is that what they see is a business plan that doesn’t work. Our economy is not very strong.”
At times, the pair talked over each other or directly challenged each other’s statements.
At certain points the debate became heated, including an exchange over the recent release of pornographic e-mails the state attorney general says were sent to and from state officials.
Wolf said some responsibility for the e-mails falls on the governor.
Following the debate, the candidates met with reporters outside the CBS studio where it took place.
KYW’s Jim Melwert reports that Corbett says he was offended that Wolf would imply the e-mail scandal started at the top.
“That was a cheap shot,” Corbett said. “Had they sent that to me right away, it would have stopped. I had no knowledge about that.”
“I didn’t mean it to be a cheap shot,” Wolf responded. “That’s the first thing. Second thing is, it is a fact — having been an executive in many different contexts including in public service — that is one of the responsibilties of senior management: to set the culture of the organization.”
The two also tangled over pension reform and the minimum wage.
The hour-long debate was broadcasted live on KYW Newsradio 1060, CBS 3, the CW Philly, and streamed live on CBSPhilly.com. This morning’s meeting is the only debate between Corbett and Wolf taking place in Philadelphia.
The election for Pennsylvania governor is November 4th.
If you missed the live #cbsphillydebate, you can catch a rebroadcast on Sunday, October 5th, at 1pm on #CBS3, or watch it below:
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