The fight to be this year’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee came to the offices of the Observer-Reporter Friday as both state Treasurer Rob McCord and former Department of Environmental Protection secretary Katie McGinty talked with the newspaper’s editorial board on the state of the race and what they would do if they become Pennsylvania’s chief executive next January.
Both McCord and McGinty are seeking to wrest loose the front-runner’s mantle from Tom Wolf, the York businessman and former revenue secretary who has vaulted to the top of most statewide polls on the wings of a self-financed campaign that has blanketed the airwaves with commercials. While both raised questions about Wolf’s experience and battle-readiness, both reserved the greater share of their rhetorical fire for another Tom – the sitting governor, Tom Corbett.
In separate visits, both candidates criticized the governor for his policies relating to Marcellus Shale development, education and his handling of the Pennsylvania Lottery, the operation of which he had hoped to outsource to a British firm until state Attorney General Kathleen Kane scuppered the deal.
Corbett “has been more loyal to the Tea Party,” than state residents, McGinty said.
There are relatively few differences on policy issues between McGinty, McCord, Wolf and the fourth candidate, Philadelphia-area Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz. They differ primarily on the margins and on who would be the most effective in enacting those policies.
“I work hard to disagree without being disagreeable,” McCord said.
McCord has said his proposals are bolder than the other candidates, most specifically a 10-percent extraction tax on the natural gas industry, while McGinty supports a lower tax in the neighborhood of 5 percent, using a formula more akin to what is on the books in West Virginia, arguing it is more practical. McGinty would also commit the revenue from an extraction tax exclusively to education and ameliorating the local impact from drilling.
“It’s a serious proposal that can attract bipartisan support,” she explained.
McCord and McGinty each support allowing local municipalities to control where and when drilling takes place, while McCord would scrap Act 13, the state’s two-year-old oil and gas drilling law entirely and start afresh.
Both candidates also differed regarding marijuana and whether Pennsylvania should follow the examples set by Colorado and Washington state and legalize it. McGinty supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis, but worries about the message it would be sending to young people. “To me, it sends the wrong signal to kids,” she said. On the other hand, McCord said he supports legalization, because it would bring $400 million into state coffers annually, but that he would “regulate the heck out of it.”
Despite proposing a more hard-line approach to the oil and gas industry than Gov. Corbett, McCord was accompanied on his visit to the Observer-Reporter by state Sen. Tim Solobay of Canonsburg, who is known to be relatively friendly to oil and gas interests. Solobay said he had “the opportunity to sit at the table (with McCord) and have a real conversation,” and that even though they “disagree on some things,” he believes McCord is “willing to make things happen and go that extra mile.”
Like their Democratic counterparts in the state House and Senate, neither candidate supports privatizing the state’s wine and liquor outlets, saying the state can ill-afford to give up the revenue they yield. McGinty and McCord each supports “modernizing” the system.
“Let’s modernize it before we privatize it,” McCord said.
But neither will be able to make it to the governor’s mansion and make their proposals a reality unless they can maneuver around Wolf’s deep-pocketed campaign. With the primary vote looming May 20, both said they had time to claim the sizeable contingent of Democratic voters who say they are still undecided.
And McGinty, at least, doesn’t begrudge Wolf’s free-spending strategy.
“If I had $10 million, I would do exactly the same thing,” she said.