Passions were high last week as Gov. Tom Corbett arrived at Corp. John Loudenslager American Legion Post 366 in Fox Chase to kick off his re-election bid.
Outside, about 50 protesters held signs and chanted in opposition to what they see as Corbett’s cuts to public education and welfare programs.
Inside, supporters eagerly waited for the governor, first lady Sue Corbett and Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley to take the podium, where a sign read, “More Jobs, Less Taxes.”
When protesters saw Corbett’s campaign bus turn off Rhawn Street onto Oxford Avenue, they booed and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Governor Corbett’s got to go.”
The group included members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Action United and the Pennsylvania Coalition Advocating for Public Schools.
In the Loudenslager hall, a protester slipped in and began chanting “One-term Tom” before supporters drowned him out with calls for “Four more years.”
Sue Corbett credited the protesters with chanting in a nice rhyme, joking that her husband’s backers should do a conga line.
The GOP faithful included former City Councilman Jack Kelly and party bosses John Taylor, Joe DeFelice and Mike Meehan. Taylor, a state representative and the Republican City Committee chairman, credited Corbett with erasing a budget deficit without raising taxes.
“It’s our job to keep reminding people of that,” he said. “We have an untold story, and we’re going to start telling it today.”
Cawley, a former Bucks County commissioner, noted that former Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker left a budget surplus in 2003, only to see spending increase under the next Democratic administration. He called Corbett a “strong, principled man” who has ended the state’s former tax-and-spend ways.
“I believe that Tom Corbett has earned a second term,” he said.
Corbett stood in front of a banner that read, “Promises Kept.” He recalled being born in Philadelphia, though his family moved when he was 1. He is a longtime resident of western Pennsylvania.
The governor spent two terms as state attorney general before being elected in 2010.
“We have gotten a lot done in 2½ years,” he said.
Opinion polls tell a different story. Corbett’s favorability ratings are low, and a bunch of Democrats have entered the race to deny him a second term.
Corbett, though, said he was faced with a $4.2 billion budget deficit when he came into office. Unlike the federal government, he pointed out, Pennsylvania has a requirement to balance its budget.
“We could not afford to raise taxes on the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.
The other option, of course, was to reduce spending. Corbett’s initial budget was the first one to spend less than the year before in four decades.
The governor reduced the size of the state automobile fleet by 20 percent, saving $43 million. Also, the state refinanced its debt to the federal government.
The overall size of government was reduced to its lowest level in a half-century.
“I had brown hair 50 years ago, that’s how long ago it was,” said the 64-year-old, white-haired governor.
Corbett said a highlight of his first term is greater investment in Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, where there are orders for ships to be built beyond 2020.
Also, the governor’s office worked in a bipartisan manner with the mayor’s office and White House to preserve jobs at the Sunoco oil refinery in South Philadelphia. It’s now being operated efficiently, Corbett said, by Philadelphia Energy Solutions.
Corbett thanked the legislature for working with him to spend $40 million to reduce the waiting list for physically and mentally disabled people to receive services.
The governor, a former teacher along with his wife, challenged his critics on public education.
“We spend more money on education than at any time in the history of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Corbett said that the state is funding most of the $1.3 billion the School District of Philadelphia is receiving this year. The federal government has also contributed, and the governor said that Philadelphia isn’t the only school district in need.
“We have 499 other school districts,” he said.
Corbett said he deserves re-election for balancing the budget, contending that Pennsylvania’s economy will continue to grow in the near future.
“Our fiscal house is in order,” he said. “Our best days are ahead.” ••