Warrior Turzai

Brad Bumsted
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

With his gravelly voice, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai could probably do a decent imitation of former Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell.

It is about the only thing they have in common. In fact, Rendell once called Turzai “nuts” for pushing business tax cuts as the state faced a budget shortfall.

That is, of course, a badge of honor for any conservative Republican.

The 40 percent increase in spending while Rendell was governor — while inflation increased 21 percent — is part of Turzai’s stock speech.

The Bradford Woods Republican was sworn in as majority leader — the No. 2 post in the House — in January. With Republicans remaining in control of the Senate and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett taking office, the all-GOP lineup in Harrisburg looked like a steamroller ready to move a conservative GOP agenda.

But as they say about some relationships on Facebook, “It’s complicated.”

For starters, Turzai knows that the November election results weren’t pro-Republican but rather a reaction by angry taxpayers fed up with government spending and borrowing.

Things have unfolded in Harrisburg with strange divisions among the four political caucuses.

The Senate Republicans are intent on moving a Marcellus shale impact fee (some say it’s a tax) and tuition vouchers for school choice. They are trying to tie the impact fee to the budget.

The House Republicans led by Turzai — on most major issues — appear to be aligned with Corbett. The majority don’t want to see a tax. Corbett would consider an impact fee but only if the revenue remains in local hands.

Perhaps the biggest issue of their alignment is fiscal philosophy. They don’t want to spend every penny coming into state government.

It’s that mentality that led to what Turzai and his followers believe was wild and reckless spending by Rendell. Rendell, of course, says he’ll be remembered for his contributions to improve K-12 education — read billions of extra dollars for the Philadelphia School District.

The House Republican budget introduced last week restores some of Corbett’s cuts in higher education but keeps spending below the $27.3 billion level set by Corbett.

Senate Republicans want to go above $27.3 billion and don’t want to “leave money on the table.” That lines them up with House Democrats who believe that despite a $4.2 billion deficit for 2011-12, the state should spend a $500 million “surplus” by June 30 to restore more budget cuts, according to a one-month revenue estimate.

The House departed a bit from Corbett on vouchers by passing a tax credit expansion for school choice. But it was bipartisan with 190-member support.

Of all the legislative leaders, Turzai is the most ideologically driven and he most aligns with Corbett.

Some believe the Republicans in Harrisburg haven’t moved an agenda that is as conservative as other states with new GOP leadership. That might be true. But ending most collective bargaining for most state employees as Wisconsin did just isn’t in the cards here. Organized labor is stronger in Pennsylvania than in most other states.

Turzai points to 98 bills passed by the House since January — from legal reform, to the Castle Doctrine, to welfare reform, to ending a mandate for fire sprinklers in new homes.

And he is a believer in an “incrementally aggressive” agenda — start with the low-hanging fruit and make each vote a tougher step on conservative issues.

Turzai is focused and always well prepared. He has a loyal following among newer Republican lawmakers with reform agendas whom he helped get elected to the House.

A timely budget that spends less — with no tax increases — is his top priority.

Read more: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/opinion/s_736987.html