By Andrew Staub | PA Independent
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday he doesn’t usually “scoop” himself, but he broke protocol by announcing a plan to increase funding for domestic violence and rape crisis programs by $2.2 million.
The sneak-peek at one of his spending initiatives drew praise from victim advocates — as well as a respite from the bad publicity that’s harangued Corbett as he seeks a second term against heavy odds and daily criticism from the cadre of Democratic candidates clamoring to challenge him in the fall.
In all likelihood, the announcement was also a calculated political move to snare headlines before the larger budget scrum overshadows the second straight annual increase for the programs, said G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College.
“It’s absolutely part of a broader strategy for re-election, and I think it makes sense,” said Chris Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.
PUBLIC PULPIT: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett wants to increase funding for vital services for victims of domestic abuse and rape, something that political analysts say is also a political move.
Corbett is still trying to make up for sagging approval ratings before the November election. A Quinnipiac University poll released in December placed Corbett’s approval rating at 36 percent among Pennsylvania voters. He’s polled particularly poorly among women voters, who gave him a 31 percent approval rating, according to the poll.
“He’s had some work to do in patching up support among Pennsylvania women for his re-election bid,” said Borick, who added that increasing the money for domestic violence and rape-crisis programs is an important move for Corbett from a policy and symbolic sense.
U.S. Department of Justice statistics show women are far more likely to be domestic violence victims than men, and pundits think Corbett is trying to show he cares about issues within the realm of human services and education — another troublesome topic for the governor.
“He’s trying to work hard to change that narrative, and that’s probably what this is about,” Madonna said.
Corbett gave a different rationale.
“You evolve as a governor, primarily,” said Corbettt, acknowledging the power of his public pulpit when it came to drawing attention to issues such as domestic abuse.
“I find it helpful if I help with the message,” he said to a room of assembled reporters.
Considering the state’s $28 billion budget, $2.2 million isn’t a lot of money, but the proposal drew plenty of attention Wednesday. It also led pundits to surmise Corbett might next target education funding.
Winning the public on his plan for education won’t be easy. Democrats have spent plenty of time accusing him of slashing education funding by $1 billion in his first budget.
Corbett has countered that by saying the state backfilled education funding with federal stimulus money, which eventually ran out. Since then, state funding for basic education has increased every year but still hasn’t accounted for all of the lost stimulus money.
The governor’s point is valid, but voters don’t always see that, Madonna said. But they do see the issue in terms of cuts to music programs or library staff in their school districts, he said.
“I really do believe it’s an uphill battle for him right now,” said David Sosar, a professor of political science at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “I think, even to some degree in his own party, some of the people are not ready, really, to kind of run on his record with education.”
Wednesday’s announcement only continued the up-and-down nature of Corbett’s three years in office. The day brought positive press. But it came after last week ended on a sour note after a Commonwealth Court judge struck down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law and a protest about Corbett’s education policies forced him to cancel a visit to a Philadelphia public school.
Indeed, every time Corbett gains momentum, it seems he takes a step back and is forced to try to gain ground again, Madonna said.
“The governor has lurched from good news to often self-inflicted wounds — as we all know — time after time after time,” Madonna said.
That’s left him with dismal approval rating and less than a year to restore confidence in voters. Corbett might have scooped himself Wednesday, but he’ll have to wait until November to learn whether Pennsylvanians give him a second term.
“If he does win,” Madonna said, “it will make history because nobody has come back from this kind of deficit.”
Andrew Staub is a reporter for PA Independent and can be reached at Andrew@PAIndependent.com. Follow @PAIndependent on Twitter for more.
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