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Corbett, Wolf Continue to Trade Blows at Third and Final Debate

AP Photo/Rodney Johnson,WTAE-TV, Pool

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf met for their third and final debate in Wilkinsburg Wednesday evening.

The tone was less combative than previous debates, which Wolf attributed to the format of the debate, in which each candidate had one minute to respond to questions from an in-studio panel and the public via social media.

The main topics of the evening were education funding and the state’s pension debt shortfall.

As expected, Wolf accused Corbett of cutting $1 billion in education spending his first year in office, and Corbett refuted that claim.

“Clearly my opponent, along with the public sector unions having been saying – and lying – that we cut,” Corbett said. “The cut took place in the (Ed) Rendell administration. Everybody knows that. Even the (Philadelphia) Inquirer and other newspapers across the state of Pennsylvania have agreed that the cut took place at that point in time.”

The $1 billion in question were federal stimulus dollars that were available to Rendell but not to Corbett in his first year, but Wolf said that is not the point.

“That doesn’t relieve a leader from making tough decisions,” Wolf argued. “It was his budget. The responsibility for making that cut was his. The responsibility for setting priorities was his. The fact that we’re still down … in classroom spending $580 million happened on his watch.”

Another major point of disagreement was how to solve the state’s pension woes. Wolf argued that the pension system itself is not flawed, but that the state needs to put more money into fully funding its pension obligations.

“Governors have not adequately paid into that fund,” Wolf said. “We need to figure out a way to do that, pay that debt, because that balance keeps coming up. I plan to do something about that. I will not keep delaying payment, I will do something.”

Corbett took issue with Wolf’s assertion that his and previous administrations have not adequately paid into the system, and instead said it’s the system itself that needs to be overhauled.

“We do have to, though, bite the bullet and start reforming how we’re paying into that system, rather than continuing to say we’re just going to continue to pay at $610 million new dollars each year for the next, I think it’s 25 years,” Corbett said.

Earlier this year, the governor held out on signing the budget unless pension reform passed in the state legislature. Lawmakers called his bluff and a pension reform bill has yet to make its way to Corbett’s desk.

Another bill awaiting legislative approval was the topic of a question from Twitter user Nick Arnold. Arnold wanted to know how each candidate envisioned the process of marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania.

Corbett responded by saying that he does not support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but that he does support research into the therapeutic possibilities of a marijuana-derived oil that does not produce hallucinogenic effects.

“Because I know it, for all the work that I’ve had to do over the many, many years, that it’s a gateway drug that creates all the drug problems we’re seeing here in Pennsylvania and the United States,” Corbett said.

Wolf communicated more urgency and took the topic one step further by addressing how the state deals with people who use the drug recreationally.

“We need to legalize medical marijuana immediately. We need to work quickly on that,” Wolf said. “We need to make sure that we decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. We put too many people in prison, we break up families, destroy too many lives, and actually weaken our economy by taking too many people out of the workforce.”

Much of Wolf’s campaign focus has revolved around his promise to cut taxes for the middle class, while advertisements from Corbett have said that Wolf will raise taxes. Corbett said that Wolf’s proposed 5 percent extraction tax would do little to help him keep all the promises he’s made with regard to education funding, pension liabilities, and environmental protection.

“Mr. Wolf wants to spend more money, we know that. The question is, how much?” Corbett asked. “He needs to tax more to get that additional money, but he won’t tell the people of Pennsylvania exactly how much, nor will he tell them right here, a few weeks from the election, how he’s going to do it. Who’s taxing are going to go up?”’

Wolf responded with a rough sketch of a modified personal income tax structure.

“If you’re in the $70,000-90,000 range as an individual, and you can double that if you’re married, you should not pay any more in taxes. People making below that will get a break. That’s my goal,” Wolf said.

Questions from the panel and the public also touched on a variety of other topics.

Wolf called for a moratorium on capital punishment, while Corbett said the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.

With regard to voter ID laws, Wolf said they are un-democratic, Corbett said they are necessary to prevent fraud.

On the topic of the minimum wage, Corbett argued that the state should stay in step with the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25/hour. Wolf said it should be raised to $10.10/hour over the next three years and then should be indexed to inflation.

Additionally, Wolf said he wants to beef up background checks for gun purchasers. Corbett said the real problem is illegal gun sales to straw purchasers, which background checks do little to prevent.