The gloves come off

Published by James O'Toole on .

That didn't take long.

Democrat Tom Wolf cruised to the Democratic nomination for governor on a wave of overwhelmingly positive ads introducing him to the state's voters.  Mr. Corbett, of course, had no primary opposition at all, so he had no need to run negative ads during the primary, although his campaign did air one quirky commercial making fun of Mr. Wolf's trademark Jeep.

But now the general election combat is underway in earnest, with both sides airing sharp attack ads.  The Corbett campaign was up with the negatives first.  After launching a generic defense of his adminstraiton last week, the incumbent turned to an attack on Mr. Wolf's tenure as secretary of revenue under the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.  The Wolf camp fired back Tuesday with a video, not yet airing on broadcast TV, which contains a litany of charges against the Corbett administration that echoed the criticisms that all of the Democratic primary candidates had trained on the incumbent.

Here's Corbett hitting his challenger:

And here's Wolf's broadside at the administration:

The Corbett ad attempts to tie Mr. Wolf to a list of tax increases proposed, but never enacted, during Mr. Rendell's second term.  It also warns that Mr. Wolf wants to raise income taxes.  Mr. Wolf has proposed changing the state income levy from its current flat rate, 3.07 percent, to a more progressive structure that would provide a substantial personal or household exemption with a higher rate on income above the exempt level.  There would be winners and losers under such a structure compared to the current one.  In theory, less affluent taxpayers would pay less and wealthier taxpayers would owe more.  Mr. Wolf has said that the plan would be structured to benefit most middle class taxpayers, but without more precise details, it's impossible to assess its full effect.

The Wolf ad reprises the Democrats' primary attacks, assailing the GOP incumbent for enacting a budget that led to a projected deficit this year.  Despite their other differences, Mr. Corbett and the GOP leadership agree that the recently enacted spending plan bridges that budget gap.   But Mr. Wolf and other Democrats contend that it is rife with gimmicks and one-time fiixes that will pave the way for more red ink next year.  It also states that Mr. Corbett gave tax breaks to corporations and "let oil and gas companies off the hook,''  while cutting "a billion from our schools, forcing communities to raise property taxes.''

The Corbett administration has pursued a gradual phaseout of the capital stock and franchise tax.  It has resisted calls for an extraction or severance tax on gas drilling, although the Wolf ad fails to mention that the administration did enact a smaller impact fee on gas wells.

The Democratic ad asserts that the state is 49th in job growth.  Both sides cherry-pick economic statistics in this race.  The liberal Keystone Research Center, reported this week that the state was 42nd in job growth over the last year, and 49th since 2011, the beginning of Mr. Corbett's term.   The administration counters that the state's unemployment rate has fallen steadily during the Corbett years, to 5.7 percent, the lowest level since 2008 and one below the national rate of 6.3 percent.

The oft-repeated charge that Mr. Corbett cut $1 billion from education is the center of a semantic, and substantive, argument between the two sides.  Mr. Corbett asserts that state dolalrs are actually at a record level.  But school districts did experience massive funding cuts in his first budget.  The administration, however, points the finger at the loss of federal stimulus funding that had bolserted school funding in the latter part of the Rendell administration.

The Corbett campaign fired first in this exchange, but that didn't stop his spokesmen, Chris Pack, from taking umbrage at the tone of the new Wolf video.

“It’s funny just how easily millionaire Secretary Tom Wolf is willing to abandon his supposed principles and morals in his race for Governor. Just two short months ago, Secretary Wolf said he wouldn’t run negative ads because it’s not who he was. You’ve got to hand it to Secretary Tom Wolf for selling out his personal principles more quickly than he agreed to sell out taxpayers on behalf of public sector unions who have pumped $1.13 million dollars into his campaign coffers to get him to keep quiet on pension reform that would provide property tax relief.”






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