There’s good and bad news for the New York Yankees.
The bad news is that their huge payroll hasn’t produced, since they haven’t won a World Series in over a year. Maybe the recession has made the Yanks too cash-strapped to bring in new talent. That’s where the good news comes in. Turns out they will have extra money to spend, since they won’t be shelling out big bucks to renovate the stadium of their minor league team in Scranton/Wilkes Barre.
The Yanks’ windfall comes courtesy of Pennsylvania taxpayers, who are on the hook for $20 million. And who authorized such an expenditure at a time when the state is facing a $4.2 billion deficit? Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
The same person who, during his campaign last year, championed fiscal restraint and the need for government to return to its core functions. The same person, who, a day after announcing the deal, talked about why the state is in a fiscal mess: "[Ed Rendell] said yes, yes, yes," Corbett said of his predecessor, "and that's why we are where we are . . . in the times we are in we have to be able to say no."
Come again? He just spent money on something taxpayers shouldn’t be funding in good times, let alone in a recession when the state’s finances are in bad shape.
So Corbett’s curveball will keep his approval rating at 30 percent — a great percentage for a hitter but not so good for a politician — and a far cry from the 55 percent he received just six months ago.
Here’s a look at why the stadium giveaway is such bad policy — and bad politics:
1. People are “stadium fatigued,” having put up money to construct arenas for the Eagles, Phillies, Steelers, Pirates and soccer franchise Philadelphia Union. All told, $1 billion in taxpayer money was used to finance stadium construction since 1999. And here’s the kicker: the real amount will be almost three times that, because the money usually comes from bonds, which, like mortgages, are paid back over time (20 or 30 years) with interest.
2) Blaming Rendell for the state’s fiscal mess is certainly on target, as spending under his eight year watch skyrocketed. But Corbett’s message increasingly rings hollow since his rhetoric doesn’t meet his actions.
Rendell attempted to bail out the Philadelphia Shipyard (a private entity) so that it could build ships with no buyers, but left office before completing the deal. Corbett bailed it out anyway.
And it was Rendell who initially wanted to fund the Yankees’ stadium, but again, it was Corbett who came in from the bullpen to give the Yanks a taxpayer-funded “win.”
The perception is that Corbett is pursuing a policy of “spending cuts for you, but not me.” He raised the salaries of his executive staff (who now average $13,000 per year more than their Rendell counterparts), and increased the lieutenant governor’s budget by 46 percent.
Cuts are inherently unpopular, but people will support a leader who leads by example and mandates that “everybody feels the pain — no exceptions.” That hasn’t happened.
3) The stadium money comes from a bond that funds building projects. In Pennsylvania, there are an infinite number of possibilities that would provide a better return to the state and its taxpayers.
Pre-eminent among them would be building natural gas fueling stations for the state fleet of vehicles that will, hopefully, soon be powered by that fuel. The management of these stations could then be leased to private companies to maximize private-sector efficiencies.
Additionally, state buildings should be converted to natural gas, since Pennsylvania is sitting atop of the second-largest gas field in the world. It is clean (virtually no emissions); extremely cost effective (currently one-seventh the cost of gasoline); limitless; creates jobs; and sets the national model for how to achieve energy independence (bolstering national security).
Tom Corbett is giving Democrats all the ammunition they need to wage effective campaigns against Republican legislators next year, to the point where the governor’s increasing lack of credibility could potentially endanger the GOP majorities in both chambers, particularly in a presidential election year.
It’s time the governor gets his head in the real game.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and television commentator who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com
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