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.

  • Ray Speicher

    I am so glad that Gov.Corbett is proposing dramatic cuts. We voted for conservatives in the last election to send a clear message. Progressive policies will make everyone poorer. Sound fiscal policy, industrious people (with fresh cash because of Marcellus) and innovation will spawn prosperity. The federal gov. needs to cut a trillion not $100mm. Smaller government is better. Free markets and free trade are appropriate for moral, free citizens. I am thankful; for the billions that will be paid to PA landowners (including me) from natural gas drilliers.

    The wealth of W. PA has been dug out of the earth for 200 years. Our richly endowed hills and valleys are again yielding natural resources that in the past have enabled the development of glass, iron, oil and steel. The wealth created in W. PA during the1800s was reinvested into the communication, electrical and nuclear power generation, medical and educational innovations of the 20th century. The Marcellus money will enrich smaller landowners who will reinvest and be daring capitalist who fund the next wave of innovation. This is what happened in the oil boom of the 1800’s and we are still enjoying the benefits today through the generousity of family foundations who steward the wealth obtained in the past and have loyalty to the region.


  • Carol

    No, I do not support a severance tax on drilling.
    I would rate Tom Corbett’s job performance as excellent so far.

    And, yes, I work in the gas industry, I am a landowner with mineral rights, have already signed a gas lease and received a bonus payment, waiting on royalties, and, of course, I did vote for Corbett. I am 100% Republican. 100% in support of the Marcellus drilling.

    Those who criticize “big gas and oil companies” seem to forget that these companies are made up of thousands and thousands of people (PA residents, American citizens) who earn a decent (or better) living working in this industry. The gas companies are not “bad” – they are for profit companies that have a goal of maximizing profits which is good for the company, the employees, stockholders, and the economy in general.
    Thank God we got the Republicans back in office. I’m tired of those who think they deserve handouts and support more taxes. I was raised to work hard and get an education to earn a good income and I always thought it was smart to own property – now both are paying off.

  • Carol

    Excellent commentary Ray. I should have read your comment before writing mine – it would have saved me time – I could have just said “I agree completely with Ray.” I wish more people who feel this way would be more outspoken. All we hear about are those who oppose the industry.

  • Carol

    What is your question? Do you not know what “peasants” means?

  • cute carol…i DO know what peasants means..and i think it was rude….not very professional at all…
    degrading at best.

  • Carol

    I didn’t mean to be unprofessional – I don’t understand your question. I was just asking for clarification of your comment.


  • evan lower

    so marcellus shouldn’t have to pay the severance taxes every other drilling company has to pay, because it’s being “innovative”? no, what it’s doing is destroying our national parks. why should they be so under-regulated? one would think that following one of the most catastrophic oil spills the world has ever seen, that maybe drilling companies of any sort should be looked after more seriously. and do you really think a trillion dollar cut is the least bit reasonable, mr. ray? what, so we can all be homeless? free market benefits only those who wish to exploit their workers…

  • Merlyn Clarke

    It is disingenuous for the governor to simply cut institutional budgets beyond the point of their survival without setting forth any clear policy context within which such should occur. Higher ed cuts at the level he proposes are unsustainable by these institutions. If it is his policy that they do not survive, he should say so, and come up with a plan for phasing them out–or at least some of them. Instead, he is simply playing a political game, cynical in nature, of hyperbolic, non-serious numbers symbolism. The same for public schools. He speaks from one side of his mouth of ending unfunded mandates–without naming a single one, and all of which would require legislative action (some at the federal level) that could takes months or years to accomplish–while on the other hand, reducing their funding, such as assistance for paying charter school tuition and special ed assistance. He offers local school districts nothing to help them meet the budget crises he has created for them, other than a bland invitation to unions to forgo contractual raises. What if they refuse? He, in effect, has just raised property taxes to the max. Saying that voters should vote on these is pure hyperbole. This, again, requires legislation. What is to happen in the meantime? Has he even submitted such legislation? In the meantime, local school districts must do a budget. Again, he presents no policy framework.
    Who can take such an executive seriously? He is becoming nothing more than a caricature.

  • JJ

    Ray’s comment is actually a good argument in favor of opposing the Governor’s plan. The obvious difference between how PA used its natural resources in the past, and how it’s using them today, is that in the past they were used to benefit the citizens of PA. The architects of the oil boom and the steel industry actually had loyalty to the region, and they invested heavily in cities like Erie and Pittsburgh. In contrast, today our natural resources are being pillaged by companies with no ties to the region. I seriously doubt that anyone would be as upset over the fact that gas companies are not being taxed if they were, in fact, investing in the region’s educational institutions in the ways that John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie did at the turn of the last century. Instead, we have companies like Haliburton and Chinese energy companies who are paying a pittance to PA landowners, with no commitment to long term investment in the state, while they get fantastically rich.

    It’s for this reason that I don’t buy into the argument you make below, Carol: “Those who criticize “big gas and oil companies” seem to forget that these companies are made up of thousands and thousands of people (PA residents, American citizens) who earn a decent (or better) living working in this industry.” If this were a case where energy companies with ties to the region were making long term investments in the state, rather than simply offering mildly profitable deals to landowners and termporary work to PA citizens, while investing elswhere in this country or in the world, then I would be less critical of the Governor.

    Also, one of the great problems facing PA is the fact that it has a declining population and massive brain drain. I don’t deny that in the short term allowing energy companies to exploit our resources will be profitable for some. I know plenty of people who are making extra cash by leasing their mineral rights or who have taken on tempoary jobs for energy companies that have their main offices elsewhere. But this is a short term improvement to the state’s economy. For the state to thrive, it’s going to need well-educated professionals who will invest in the state’s economy long term by setting down roots here. The Governor’s plan is only going to exacerbate the state’s brain drain by driving up education costs and encouraging our best and brightest to look elsewhere for a college education, or to relocate to states where education is actually valued because they want better opportunities for their children.

    Look, I don’t begrudge people who want to turn a quick profit by leasing their mineral rights or by taking on jobs with energy companies who are grabbing up our resources. But the Governor’s plan is short-sighted. The people I know who are profitting from the gas industry are glad that they can now pay their bills and put aside a little extra in their savings accounts, but they’re still worried about their children’s futures. They’re now living in school districts which are laying off teachers. They’re now faced with rising tuitition costs because the state’s universities are having their appropriations cut. And their kids, who will most likely be educated out-of-state, will most likely not be returning to PA because there will still not be any jobs here once the gas companies have what they want.