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Transportation Funding: Too Touchy To Tout?

A Wall Street Journal editorial last week delivered a harsh sizing-up of Gov. Tom Corbett’s legislative achievements, and in so doing prompted a question: Why isn’t the governor campaigning on securing additional transportation funding for the state?

The WSJ op-ed noted Corbett’s low polling numbers and criticized the governor for being “unable to corral his caucus to pass even de minimis pension, school and tax reforms.”

The line was significant for what it left out: the multibillion dollar bill passed last fall to fund transportation infrastructure. The measure was a massive undertaking in the Legislature, and heralded by both business and labor groups.

But the fight to get the bill to the governor’s desk pitted the administration and moderate Republicans against more staunch conservatives skeptical of higher motorist fees and taxes on gas.

The governor has not mentioned the transportation bill in his latest campaign ads for television, released last month.

“He’s not going to,” said Leo Knepper, director of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania (CAP). The group backs conservative policies and candidates in the state Legislature, though Knepper said it isn’t getting involved in statewide races like the gubernatorial campaign.

CAP was against the transportation funding bill, and Knepper said it makes perfect sense that the governor wouldn’t make mention of it in campaign efforts, so as not to stoke the still-burning anger of voters on the right who were also against the plan.

“The cost of the transportation bill is being passed on entirely to taxpayers and fee payers,” Knepper said, “which, whether the governor likes to admit it or not, goes against one of his original campaign promises of not raising taxes or fees.”

Charlie Gerow, a GOP consultant in Harrisburg, who works with the Corbett campaign, doesn’t see it that way.

“The transportation funding bill the governor Corbett helped shepherd through the General Assembly in a bipartisan manner and fashion is so important for Pennsylvania,” he said, emphasizing that he is speaking on his own behalf, and not that of the incumbent governor’s reelection campaign.

Gerow said there’s another reason the transportation funding bill hasn’t come up yet in Corbett’s campaign outreach.

“It’s very early ... the focus is on the Democratic candidates tearing each other’s eyes out,” Gerow said. Though, based on recent debates, anyone waiting to see proverbial claws will have to wait a little longer.

“But I’m sure as the campaign progresses that the Corbett campaign is going to discuss transportation funding,” Gerow added, “and the fact that there are projects going on all over the state that would not have happened except for Tom Corbett’s leadership.”

Billy Pitman, a spokesman for the Corbett reelection campaign, said the governor is proud to have signed into law additional transportation funding, and will be talking about it in the future. “It was just our first tow ads,” he said, referring to the television spots released last month, “and we’ll have a lot more between now and November.”

The WSJ piece condemning Corbett’s legislative record, Pitman added, was “completely off-base.” He said transportation funding was one of many legislative accomplishments that went unnoticed in the op-ed.