The Truth About How Pennsylvanians Feel About Gov. Tom Corbett and His Budget

pitchforksIf you do nothing more than read or listen to the headlines in PA, you’d swear the peasants are coming with pitchforks for newly elected Gov. Tom Corbett because the budget he’s proposing (finally) balances the budget in PA—without raising taxes. After years of gimmicks and patches, and especially after two years of Obama’s stimulus money which has been squandered and is now gone (our children and grandchildren will thank us for that one—they’re the ones who will have to pay it back), states all over the country must now deal with serious deficits, including PA. Corbett was elected in part to do just that.

After issuing his budget last week, it’s been a non-stop scream fest from the media announcing how much residents hate the budget. The media narrative has been that Corbett “wants to slash spending on education but won’t levy a tax on Marcellus drilling.” In their efforts to support the narrative, newspapers and television outlets in PA commissioned a poll by Franklin & Marshall College, and they frequently quote bits and pieces from that poll to support their stated conclusions. The problem is, when you read the polling data for yourself, it doesn’t quite fit the narrative painted by the media.

Forthwith are the actual questions asked, and the full responses. This is not the complete survey which also includes demographic questions. You can download the full survey below and read it for yourself.

MDN offers its observations after each survey question—you can draw your own conclusions.

(Warning: Although this post includes details about Marcellus shale drilling, it also includes coverage of the broader issue of the PA budget and the recent poll conducted about the budget. Some of this material may appear to be “off topic” but in MDN’s opinion it provides the proper context to understand the issue of drilling and taxation.)

How confident are you in Governor Corbett’s ability to handle the state’s budget problems? Are you very confident, somewhat confident, not very confident, or not at all confident?

Very confident: 8%
Somewhat confident: 45%
Not very confident: 23%
Not at all confident: 16%
Don’t know: 8%

MDN’s observation: Just over half of PA, 53%, think Corbett can handle the budget and are willing to let him try. Just 39% think he’s not up to the task.

Pennsylvania is expected to have a large budget deficit this year and next year, which has forced state legislators to think of ways to balance the state budget. Generally speaking, do you think the state legislature should increase taxes to balance the budget, cut state programs and services to balance the budget, or should the legislature both cut spending and increase taxes?

Increase taxes: 6%
Cut state programs and services: 39% 
Both cut spending and increase taxes: 38%
Increase revenue: 2%
Don’t Know: 15%

MDN’s observation: A whopping 77% think that cutting spending needs to be part of the answer, while only 6% think increasing taxes alone should be the answer. If you combine that 6% with the 38% who think increasing taxes along with cutting spending is the right approach, you get 44%, or less than half the population, who think tax increases are at part of the answer.

Do you favor or oppose the following measures as a way for the state of Pennsylvania to balance its budget? Do you favor or oppose…

Taxing companies that extract and sell natural gas

Strongly favor: 41%
Somewhat favor: 21%
Somewhat oppose: 13%
Strongly oppose: 17%
Do not know: 8%

MDN observation: The question itself is misleading and muddled. What’s being proposed is not a tax on the drilling companies but a severance tax which taxes the gas itself at the wellhead. Such a tax would not necessary be on drilling companies but depending on how the lease contracts are written, may actually be a tax on the landowner. At the very least, such a tax affects both drilling companies and landowners. But let’s not quibble. The Marcellus Shale Coalition in PA is on record supporting a reasonable severance tax, so the fact that 62% in PA support it is no surprise. What is surprising, and the number you don’t hear in media reports, is that 30% (nearly 1/3) oppose it! You would think in listening to the media that “everyone” supports taxing natural gas production in PA. Not so.

Reducing state funding for local school districts

Strongly favor: 7%
Somewhat favor: 12%
Somewhat oppose: 20%
Strongly oppose: 58%
Do not know: 3%

MDN observation: There are 78% who don’t want funding cut for local schools, and 19% who say it’s OK. It would be hard to find someone who supports cutting funding for schools, so ingrained are we that any such cuts are a sign of callous disregard “for the children.” A better question would focus on cutting waste at local schools and encouraging local schools to belt-tighten as everyone must do. But we digress…

Cutting state funding in half for the state’s public universities

Strongly favor: 12%
Somewhat favor: 16%
Somewhat oppose: 21%
Strongly oppose: 46%
Do not know: 5%

MDN observation: A solid 67% oppose a 50% cut to higher ed, but a not-insignificant 28% support such “drastic” cuts.

Reducing the number of state employees

Strongly favor: 35%
Somewhat favor: 25%
Somewhat oppose: 12%
Strongly oppose: 23%
Do not know: 5%

MDN observation: Ouch, the fact that 60% of Pennsylvanians support cuts in the number of government employees doesn’t fit the media narrative at all and is conveniently ignored.

Reducing the pay and benefits of public employees

Strongly favor: 25%
Somewhat favor: 20%
Somewhat oppose: 20%
Strongly oppose: 27%
Do not know: 8%

MDN observation: Looks like residents are evenly split with about half thinking it’s a good idea to have government employees contribute more to their health plans (Wisconsin anyone?), and half that think they already contribute enough.

Increasing business taxes

Strongly favor: 14%
Somewhat favor: 23%
Somewhat oppose: 24%
Strongly oppose: 32%
Do not know: 6%

MDN observation: A very solid majority of 56% oppose placing even more (and higher) taxes on businesses as a way to help balance the budget.

How would you rate the way Tom Corbett is handling his job as Governor? Would you say he is doing an…

Excellent job: 5%
Good job: 26%
Only a fair job: 39%
Poor job: 13%
Don’t know: 18%

MDN observation: Tom Corbett has been in office less than three months, so it’s a bit early to be judging job performance. But even with daily hammering from the media only 13% rate him as doing a “poor” job, and 31% think he’s doing a good or excellent job. We would classify the 39% who rate him as “fair” as those who are still giving him a chance.

Download the Franklin & Marshall College Poll results (PDF file)

MDN’s question for readers of this website:

Do you support a severance tax on drilling? And, how do you rate Tom Corbett’s job performance thus far? Leave us a comment below.