Class war is hell — at least, if you’re on the losing side. And under Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, most Philadelphians are.
This is the peculiar moral logic of Pennsylvania’s new budget, signed June 30: Programs and services that benefit the poor, working and middle classes are being sacrificed on the altar of the no-new-taxes pledge Corbett signed with Washington anti-government power broker Grover Norquist. Under legislative pressure, Corbett rolled back some proposed cuts — rendering what had been a blueprint for devastation merely a ruinous assault on the public good.
And now, some mechanisms by which he intends to secure the commonwealth’s political fate — suppression of unfriendly voters, corporate welfare, propaganda by cronies and partisans — are clear.
School districts, hobbled by last year’s $1 billion funding cut, now face a takeover from the same state government that has been starving them. Programs serving the poor, homeless and disabled are facing cuts of $84 million. More than 69,000 vulnerable Pennsylvanians — including domestic-violence victims and recovering addicts — will shortly lose their measly $205-a-month cash assistance. Some 16,900 public-sector workers have already been kicked to the curb. And no funding fix is in sight for the state’s crumbling roads and transit systems.
Corbett and the Republican legislature (sometimes with Democratic support) have profoundly warped our state in just two years. But class war has provided lucrative spoils for the governor’s pillage-happy friends in private industry.
Harrisburg, in a bipartisan effort resisted by only the most progressive Democrats, delivered an additional $75 million to private schools — just as public schools fired teachers, cut arts and even contemplated eliminating kindergarten. The state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which gives corporations a tax kickback for subsidizing private-school tuition, is expanding to $100 million, alongside $50 million more for a related program for students living near low-performing schools. The EITC money, a New York Times investigation found, goes through middlemen who coordinate donations with politicians whom they lobby.
Energy companies profiting from Corbett’s among-the-lowest-in-the-nation natural-gas-extraction tax also got a surprise gift — a surprise, that is, to the general public — when Shell Oil nabbed a $1.65 billion tax subsidy based on dubious job-creation projections.
Indeed, a budget that is strictly conservative when it comes to people’s needs is downright liberal when it comes to corporate giveaways. Consider the phase-out of the corporate stock and franchise tax, which, along with other corporate tax breaks, will cost the state an estimated $2.4 billion, according to the liberal think tank Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. Or look to the loophole allowing companies to avoid paying taxes here by routing profits through Delaware — at an annual cost estimated in 2004 to be $400 million.
Outraged? Thanks to the state’s new voter ID law, the low-income people suffering most under Corbett could be denied the right to fight back. As House Majority Leader Mike Turzai boasted, “Voter ID … is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
The web of power and money that fuels this retrograde political network runs thick.
This week, City Paper reported that Mitt Romney fund raiser Chris Bravacos, former state Republican Party executive director and “longtime friend” of the governor, was awarded a $250,000 contract from the Corbett administration to promote voter ID.
Bravacos also runs the Bravo Foundation, which funnels EITC private-schools donations. And he sits on the board of the pro-charter Philadelphia School Partnership, which is set to receive $15 million from the William Penn Foundation — which funded and promoted the proposal to dismantle Philly public schools.
Bravo is making a $24,900 subcontract to the Skyler Group, a consulting outfit run by Otto V. Banks. Banks also heads the pro-school-voucher REACH Foundation, a recipient of funding from the right-wing American Federation for Children, which also funds campaigns against anti-voucher politicians. Bravacos sits on a REACH board, with a who’s who of state conservatives.
Voter ID is a cynical effort to suppress the poor and black vote. But it’s just one front in an elite campaign to entrust the management of the commonwealth to the super-rich and consign the rest of us to serfdom.