Corbett: I kept no-new tax pledge the ‘best I can’
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday that he believes he fulfilled the spirit of his 2010 campaign pledge not to raise taxes or fees, but he will not renew that sweeping vow in his current bid for a second term.
Corbett, a business friendly Republican who has approved an assortment of tax and fee increases since taking office, made the comments in an interview with a panel of Associated Press editors and reporters.
“I’m living up to my pledge the best I can,” said Corbett, who faces an uphill fight against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf, a wealthy businessman who injected millions into his victorious campaign in a four-way primary.
Corbett didn’t dispute the terms of his 2010 pledge but rather said that he thinks the promise was to keep taxation “under control” and that taxpayers will decide he did that.
“I think when you talk to taxpayers and, as a whole, you say, ‘Is Gov. Corbett keeping his promises on the issue of taxes?’ I think they’re going to say ‘yes’ because they’re not paying more taxes in the personal income tax. They’re not paying more taxes in the sales tax. They’re not paying more taxes in new taxes,” Corbett said.
Corbett’s pledge has been a constant companion in office for the fiscal conservative, and it has become one of the most defining issues for him. It is a presence in the Legislature’s debates in fiscal and policy matters and, for instance, has stymied legislation to impose an extraction tax on the booming natural gas industry.
Despite his general reluctance to increase the financial burden on taxpayers, Corbett has signed legislation raising taxes on motor fuels and scores of fees on items including birth certificates and hauling permits.
Asked whether he will repeat that pledge in his re-election campaign this year, he said no.
“What I’m saying is, We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing and that’s trying to provide the best possible government we possibly can, to be the most efficient we can, to be a government that encourages the growth of the private sector in Pennsylvania so that more people can keep more money in their pockets,” Corbett said.
In 2010, facing a conservative opponent in the primary, Corbett signed the no-tax pledge promoted by the Washington, D.C.-based anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform. In the general election campaign, he broadened his promise during a televised debate to also rule out fees — such as motor-vehicle levies.
In November, Corbett signed a $2.3 billion transportation funding bill that hinges largely on a wholesale fuel tax increase that conservative opponents called the second-largest tax increase in state history. It also increased more than 200 motorist and vehicle fees.
In April, the governor signed a bill doubling the fee for copies of birth certificates from $10 to $20. In June, the Department of Environmental Protection began charging higher natural gas well-permitting fees. Last month, he signed legislation that allows an extra $10 fee on all court filings, except for traffic offenses.
Corbett also signed a major oil and gas drilling law in 2012 that allowed counties to impose an impact fee on new Marcellus Shale wells. Some of the revenue goes to state agencies and grant programs.
Corbett disputes that he raised vehicle fuel taxes — he argues that the law lets the tax float with the price of gas — even though he acknowledges that it is helping provide more tax revenue, to the tune of about $600 million in road construction projects this summer alone.
He also disputes that delaying a decrease in the capital stock and franchise tax last year amounted to a tax increase, though major business associations that otherwise support Corbett — the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association — labeled it a tax increase and opposed the move.
Asked whether he regretted making the pledge, he said he couldn’t have foreseen the demands on the state for new revenue.
“Nobody has the crystal ball that’s going to say, ‘Well, I can say this and not worry about it; I can say that and not worry about it,’” Corbett said.