Corbett touts accomplishments during visit
RIDGWAY – Governor Tom Corbett toured the region Saturday before arriving in Ridgway for several speaking engagements.
After visiting the Jefferson County Fair in the afternoon, Corbett arrived at The Hound radio station in Ridgway at roughly 4:45 p.m. to meet with local philanthropist Denny Heindl for an interview for "Talk of the Town" which aired Sunday at noon.
Corbett, with a State Police escort, arrived at the station in a black Chevrolet Suburban. There he met briefly with Elk County Republican Chairperson Grace Jesberger before entering the station building with Heindl.
The governor discussed a wide range of issues, including his run in politics, liquor stores, Marcellus Shale, and the flooding in Elk County in May.
"Getting a bit more local here, we had a pretty bad flood in Ridgway and all the politicians came in but I think it was under false pretense myself," Heindl said. "They have to have $17 million damage before they get any money, but to the representatives and senators in Harrisburg, how do they ever think these small towns can ever get repaid in their damages when they can never have $17 million in damages?
"Ridgway was around $1.7 million-- I don't know where that figure came from-- but I had a girl on the radio recently who didn't even have money for a washer or dryer, or to put in for the furnace in the winter. Here we are giving billions of dollars away overseas and they don't have to pay a dollar, but I feel sorry for the people here for that. I think there needs to be a sliding scale on this or something."
Corbett said the issues aren't created by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency [PEMA], but rather the federal level.
"The issue is that this is all on the federal side, not Harrisburg," Corbett said. "They have FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], we have PEMA. The federal agency is the one that sets those figures. PEMA assesses everything and sends it to FEMA."
To qualify for the Small Business Administration loans, residents had to meet certain financial requirements and be "able to show that you can pay that money back," according to Heindl.
"Some of these people are disabled and lack the income to pay it back," Heindl said. "What do we do to help the small people? It's common sense with small towns, there's no way you're going to hit $17 million. Same thing happened in DuBois and they got nothing."
Corbett said the conversation presents good questions that state leaders do not have answers for.
"A lot of times you see the churches and so forth coming forward to help, and we're still learning the lessons of Hurricane Katrina," Corbett said. "They're being much more cautious when the money goes out and that's something that's worth looking at."
The state leader also discussed education, primarily responding to allegations from across the aisle that he cut spending for education in the state.
"A lot of people say I cut education funding but I didn't," Corbett said. "The previous administration (Rendell) admittedly on their part took a calculated risk and took some state money out of the education fund and replaced it with much more federal money, and they used that state money to put into other accounts for other projects around the state or agencies.
"That was going to run out June 30, 2011, and that's what happened. The economy was slowly coming back and we didn't have the revenue."
The state budget, then nearly $29 billion, was reined in to roughly $27 billion.
"The prior administration was raising the budget because we had federal money coming in, but that wasn't always going to last," Corbett said. "For the voters who believe we cut education, we didn't, we just didn't have the federal money to replace it and now we spend more funding on basic education funding in our entire history than we've done any other time because we grew it back with state money, not federal money."
The governor also had strong rebuttal for constituents opposed to Marcellus Shale drilling within the state, claiming that methane occurs naturally in the environment, saying that many streams throughout the Commonwealth have methane leaking up through the ground.
"We have many shallow wells with methane but unconventional wells is what they're doing," Corbett said in discussing the drilling process. "It's a scientifically-proven method of drilling done in Texas for over 40 years. We do testing everywhere with DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] and there has not been one case of evidence that this causes methane to affect water or somebody's well.
"The industry has been great for the people of Pennsylvania all across the state. It's providing jobs not just at the work sites, but the workers going into town buying goods and services, and hotels being built as well. We're talking over 200,000 involved in the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania in some way, and that has helped unemployment."
When the governor took office, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent; today, the figure has improved to 5.6 percent.
"The pipelines are going in and we need welders for that, and those folks do very well," he said. "We have scientists looking at how to use this natural gas, that creates more jobs. This is just the start of a new business for Pennsylvania and it is really going to re-industrialize our state."
Since 2008, the gas drilling industry has reportedly paid well over $2 billion in taxes, a figure Corbett calls significant.
The impact fee has also brought money back to the communities impacted by the drilling with over $600 million raised within the first three years.
"Those funds go into a temporary account in Harrisburg for the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, not for the General Assembly to get their hands on, and that's important," Corbett said. "Of the money, 63 percent goes back out to the communities that are affected, and even counties that don't have it, they're still getting a bit of it too."
The funds can help offset costs for a number of different areas, including funding for schools, roads and bridges, and social services to name a few.
"We're the only state in the union that does that and we're the No. 2 state in the country when it comes to drilling for gas," Corbett said.
What the Commonwealth does not do is sell beer and liquor in grocery stores.
"The interesting thing is that no Democrats have voted for this bill in either the House or the Senate for what I believe is a convenient choice for our voters," Corbett said. "If they want to go to a restaurant and buy a bottle of wine, and if they want to buy a bottle to take home with them, they should be able to. We have some grocery stores that are able to sell beer, our people should be able to buy wine too.
"You can get your shopping done and buy beer and wine in grocery stores in 48 other states, why can't we do it here? We're close and shy a couple of votes on the Republican side, but I'd like to get this done."
Democrat Tom Wolf in May easily trounced his party competitors for the nod against Corbett in November. While Wolf is reportedly ahead in several polls conducted across the Commonwealth, the governor is relying on the progress that he has started and indicated his administration has plenty more to accomplishment.
"Balancing the budget has been important, especially four on-time budgets without raising taxes," he said. "We've been able to lower the number of employees in the Office of the Governor to its lowest point in 40 years without firing a whole bunch of people as a lot of it was through retirements. We reduced the size of the government vehicle fleet by 20 percent in three years, and that saves $50 million so far and we continue to save."
These accomplishments, however, are "just the start" because his administration has "a lot more to do."
"I've enjoyed my time serving the Commonwealth first as attorney general then as governor, and I always tell people what we'll do and I keep the promise, that's what I've done," Corbett said. "Four years ago when I ran I told everyone that it will be tough and that some voters wouldn't like things that we'd do. They all said 'Cut spending, but not my program.'
"My goal is to make Pennsylvania stronger and attractive enough to keep our young people here. We're getting the good jobs here to the point where our sons and daughters who left are being able to come back."
Corbett also visited the Ridgway YMCA and the NRA banquet at The Royal Inn.