Democrat John Hanger launched his 2014 gubernatorial bid this afternoon, describing incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett as "vulnerable" because of the decreases in education funding and the state's higher-than-nationwide unemployment rate.
He's the first Democrat to officially announce his candidacy, and he pointed to a steep fundraising challenge in facing Corbett as rationale for his early start.
Hanger characterized the decline in funding for school districts in 2011 -- in which the state's share increased but overall funding went down due to the loss of federal stimulus dollars -- as "a matter of choice, not a matter of necessity."
The former Department of Environmental Protection secretary focused much of his remarks on his background on the state Public Utility Commission -- where he was instrumental in ending the state's electric generation monopoly -- and his work at PennFuture and at DEP on alternative energy policies.
He said he would reopen discussion on a "reasonable" natural gas severance tax, and would push for faster development of fueling stations for vehicles that use compressed natural gas, biodiesel and electricity.
He also touted his support of same-sex marriage (saying he would lobby for such a bill if elected), abortion rigths, and legalization of medical-marijuana use.
As for education, he would make it the top budget priority, pledging to fill in the $1 billion funding gap that Democrats have pointed to since Corbett's first spending plan.
"He wanted to implement those education cuts because he actually doesn't like public education," Hanger told reporters and a small throng of supporters.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley defended the governor's education budgets, saying that 40 cents out of every state dollar goes toward education. And he touted the funds that are flowing from the new drilling impact fee as helping communities.
Corbett has not yet formally announced his re-election effort, but has indicated to reporters that he'll continue the tradition of seeking a second term.
The state Republican Party said in a statement that it looks forward to a discussion about Gov. Corbett's record, citing his on-time budgets without tax hikes and support of the energy sector.
"Governor Corbett is changing the culture in Harrisburg, and now, Pennsylvania is creating jobs and putting people back to work," state GOP spokeswoman Valerie Caras said.
She added: "As Democrats sort out their field of candidates, those who have participated in runaway government spending in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. in the past decade will have a hard time explaining how they stack up against Governor Corbett's record of success."