Nearly two years into his first term, Gov. Tom Corbett has finally responded to the masses of Pennsylvania residents and business leaders who’ve clamored for the state to repair it’s crumbling roads and bridges.
Corbett promised Saturday to present a plan to legislators next year addressing the state’s neglected infrastructure. The remarks came during an appearance in Manhattan’s aristocratic Metropolitan club as part of the annual Pennsylvania Society gathering of politicos and business interests in New York City.
He said the proposal, which could be part of the state budget negotiations in April, would be a “comprehensive, bipartisan solution” to the state’s transportation woes. But though Corbett noted he “will not rely on a single source of financing,” he resisted attempts to divulge details of how he’ll fund the massive project.
“We’re looking at everything,” he told reporters after his speech. “There’s are a lot of options. I want to talk to the members of the [state] House and Senate. I want to know which options they think can get through. But we have a proposal that we’re ready to go with.”
Corbett’s willingness to tackle perhaps the state’s most pressing need may be the result of a political trinity of opportunity — his own inclination to remove the cap on the state’s oil franchise tax, federal incentives that will help finance the mammoth project, and the timely ascension of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster to the chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee.
“We’ve had opening conversations,” Corbett said of Shuster, noting that they’d even spoken of the project during the weekend excursion in Manhattan. “He knows there’s a lot of expectations on him.”
Shuster, also in attendance at the posh private club, cautiously acknowledged his role in getting the commonwealth’s transportation infrastructure repaired and upgraded.
“We need to invest in our infrastructure if we’re going to be competitive in the world, and I think the governor is right on,” he said. “We’re Pennsylvanians, so we’re going to make sure we put Pennsylvania in a good position.”
Business leaders and other Pennsylvania elected officials attending the morning meeting at the exclusive club reacted enthusiastically to Corbett’s commitment, despite a lack of details.
“He clearly expressed what we in the business community want, which is strong transportation proposal,” said Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “We’re waiting obviously for details in terms of where those dollars are going to come from.”
Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, also chose to minimize the lack of specifics in the governor’s announcement in favor of saluting Corbett for taking on the problem.
“He offered real leadership identifying an agenda, a vision and taking the reigns of leadership,” Shivers said after Corbett’s remarks. “He outlined a plan today, said it’s a priority, and we’re going to be looking forward to the rest of the pieces he puts out with it.”
Corbett’s embrace of an issue he appeared to have previously avoided also struck a positive tone with Pennsylvania Business Council President David Patti.
“What you needed more than anything else was for him to get political skin in the game on transportation,” Patti said. “Everybody who has to be involved, committee chairs, interest groups, we’ve all known what the answers are for a year or two. So we didn’t need details. All we needed was for him to fire the starting gun.”
Among those racing to address the transportation shortfall and singing from a relieved hymnal was state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Rafferty, a key figure in any movement on the issue.
Although Rafferty said he has been working with the governor’s staff for week’s developing the proposal, wants to get things moving in early February and boasted “I know all the specifics,” the Montgomery County Republican followed the governor’s lead Saturday and refused to share them.
“We’ve already been working with some of the senate D’s,” he said, noting that he has to wait for the state House to reorganize it’s transportation committee before advancing the measure in the other chamber.
“I haven’t engaged them yet but I will,” Rafferty added. “Now that we’ve got to the point where the governor has it as a priority, we can get it done.”
During Corbett’s Metropolitan club remarks, part of the annual Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association luncheon, the governor also pledged to tackle pension reform and privatization of state liquor stores.
He also appeared mildly agitated by early campaign rhetoric from announced Democratic gubernatorial challenger John Hanger, who suggested Corbett mishandled the child molestation investigation of convicted former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
“We’re not going to go into it,” Corbett said. “The man has never been involved in the criminal justice system. For him to opine on something like that is ludicrous. The man’s trying to get you guys to write stories about him.”
But the governor waxed sardonic when queried on reports that GOP Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor may challenge him in the 2014 Republican primary.
“Everybody can dream,” Corbett said.