Any other cycle, the current race for Governor in my home state of Pennsylvania would be, for all intents and purposes, over. The esteemed Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Corbett, has been laughably bad during his term in office. He has drastically cut education. He imitated several other GOP governors by refusing to allowing PA to take part in the Medicaid expansion, but made the issue his own by essentially calling children, pregnant women, and breast cancer patients who receive Medicaid moochers. He’s a Republican, so of course he attacked abortion access. He resisted the crowd on a different issue, resisting charging natural gas companies any extraction taxes, instead going with an “impact fee” that makes PA the most industry friendly state when it comes to fracking. (Corbett’s stated reasoning, that a fee means that all wells have to pay something, while an extraction tax only collects from wells that are actually producing, may make sense at times. When it doesn’t make sense is when the region is experiencing a fracking driven boom, with companies extracting huge amounts of natural gas while making huge profits and doing unknown amounts of harm to the environment.) While standing strong against raising taxes on the rich and corporations, he signed a transportation bill that is sending the gas tax skyward, which of course affects the middle and lower classes far more than the rich. (Note: I know the Democratic candidate for Lt. Gov also supported this transportation bill. I am not saying that gas taxes are an unacceptable way of generating tax revenue. My issue and point is Corbett’s support of the bill in context with his other actions. It makes a difference.) Now while the preceding points can all be argued as partisan critiques, the rest of what makes Tom Corbett possibly the worst Governor in America not names Brownbeck are not. They are matters of fact. Of failure filled fact. Of horrible, horrible failure. He failed at privatizing the state run liquor stores. (For those of you not from PA who are now thinking “WTF?,” Pennsylvania owns and operates all liquor stores in the state. Yep, a state run monopoly for drug dealing.) He failed at fixing the state pension crisis. And perhaps most embarrassingly, his signature policy, an attempt to privatize the state lottery by outsourcing it to a foreign company, went down in a flaming ball of failure. Actually, the only good thing I can say about Tom Corbett is that he is not Sam Brownbeck.
So why isn’t it over? Why do I have a nagging worry about this one?
Because it is a midterm election with a sitting Democratic President. Midterms are always a bit iffy for the left, as Democratic turn out is notoriously horrible in non-Presidential election years. Historically, midterms also favor the opposition party, which is another plus in the GOP’s column. While nothing is certain til the votes are counted, especially with voter suppression tactics in full force, it is increasingly appearing that the GOP will take control of the Senate by a small margin. (The House is a lost cause for Dems until the next census and redistricting. Yeah, the GOP gerrymandered itself one chamber of Congress for a decade.) While there are quite a few races that are nail-bitingly close this close to E-day, the political climate and fear-mongering over ISIS and Ebola could keep some GOP incumbents is offices they no longer deserve. Hell, look at Kansas. The Governor’s race there is effectively tied, and chances are decent that Sam Brownbeck will be rewarded for turning his state into a science fair project examining the damage unrestricted “Voodoo economics” can do to all sections of a state with another term in office for him to insist you just need to give it more time.
So yeah, even though Democratic challenger Tom Wolf is maintaining a significant lead in the polls, breaking the 50% barrier in several, you must forgive me if I worry until the final nail is driven in the coffin of Corbett’s term as Governor.
Still, even as a constantly concerned pessimist, I have to admit the ads coming out of Corbett’s campaign are starting to smell of desperation. Shall we pay a visit to factcheck.org?
We’ve noticed that the most deceitful attack ads often come from candidates who are most desperate. For example, consider the claim by Pennsylvania’s unpopular Republican Gov. Tom Corbett that his opponent “is promising to raise middle-class taxes,” when in fact Democratic nominee Tom Wolf promises to cut them.
FactCheck then airs the amusingly (if not intended to deceive Pennsylvanian voters) factually challenged ads. I’ll pass, but feel free to visit them and watch away. I’ll wait.
it is Corbett who’s being dishonest here. He knows exactly what Wolf is proposing, because he was standing only a few feet away from him during an Oct. 8 debate in which Wolf sketched out his plan.
Wolf said (starting at about 23 minutes into the recording): “If you are in the seventy to ninety thousand dollar range as an individual — and you can double that if you are married — you should not pay any more in taxes. And people making below that will get a break. That’s my goal.”
And that is consistent with what Wolf has been saying as far back as February, when he released a “Fresh Start” campaign white paper that included a promise of a “progressive income tax” that “will result in every middle-class family receiving a tax cut.” But the initial plan didn’t define “middle class” or give an income level.
In later interviews, including a July 25 session with Associated Press reporters and editors, Wolf specified that the “middle-class” cutoff would come somewhere between $70,000 and $90,000 in annual income. Later, his campaign said that would be just for single taxpayers, and the income level would be double that for married couples filing jointly. In the Oct. 8 debate, Wolf confirmed the $140,000-$180,000 range as the likely cutoff for couples.
By way of background, Pennsylvania currently imposes a flat 3.07 percent income tax on all taxable income, allowing for a hodgepodge of deductions but with no standard exemption or exclusion. Wolf says he would institute a universal exclusion, exempting all income below a certain level from any income tax. And he would increase the percentage tax rate on income above that level.
So sure, Wolf is going to raise taxes on the middle class. As long as those members of the middle class are earning more than 90k or so as an individual, or 180k or so as a couple. Now I understand that you can never have enough money, and I get it that those income figures don’t make someone wealthy, but you know, I know, and my dog knows what Corbett is implying when he says “middle class tax increase.”
Even if Wolf provides a tax break only to those at the lower end of the income ranges he has mentioned, many more people would see an income tax cut than would see an increase. We know this because the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that two-thirds of all households in Pennsylvania reported income of less than $75,000 last year, and all of those would see income taxes reduced or eliminated if Wolf sets his cut-off at that level, which is on the low side of the $70,000-$90,000 range for individuals.
Even fewer taxpayers would see an increase if Wolf eventually were to set the cut-off at closer to $90,000.
Looking only at married-couple families in Pennsylvania, Census reports that 16.5 percent had income of $150,000 or more, which is also at the lower end of Wolf’s $140,000 to $180,000 range for couples filing jointly. And yet, Corbett’s ads keep calling the Wolf proposal a tax increase on middle-class taxpayers, rather than the tax cut he promises for most.
We freely concede that some Pennsylvanians who think of themselves as “middle class” have incomes higher than the levels described by Wolf, and they would see their taxes go up. A USA Today/Gallup Poll found in 2012 that only 2 percent of Americans considered themselves to be “upper class” and only 10 percent identified themselves as “lower class.” The rest described themselves as “middle class” (42 percent), “upper middle class” (13 percent) or “working class” (31 percent).
Both candidates are exploiting the tendency of egalitarian Americans to think of themselves as in the “middle” no matter how high or low their actual incomes. So Wolf’s promise of an income tax cut for “every” middle-class family is true only for those who accept his particular income definition of “middle class.” But Corbett’s ads strive to give the impression that Wolf is proposing an income tax increase for everybody who considers himself “middle class.” And that’s not the case.
Keep fucking that chicken, Tom. I’ll be calling ya on every thrust til E-Day.