Saturday, March 12, 2011

Governor Corbett's Plan to Convert Pennsylvania into PA, Inc.

It might not appear at first that these two issues are related: Corbett's education-decimating budget and gas drilling. But they are. Joined at the hip, in fact. As the article below makes clear, Corbett's first priority is not education, is not the state's welfare, is not Pennsylvania--but is in fact padding his own political war chest with dollars from virtually unregulated drilling in a fashion that smells distinctly of Michigan's own recent legislation to use "state of emergency" powers to transfer public utilities to private profit-driven corporations ( Consider:

"Pennsylvania has come under fire lately as pollution from drilling in the Marcellus Shale threatens water resources across the state. But instead of ratcheting up oversight, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to hand authority over some of the state’s most critical environmental decisions to C. Alan Walker, a Pennsylvania energy executive with his own track record of running up against the state’s environmental regulations." Michigan. But even worse: as Corbett starves Pennsylvanians access to education, he also weakens the economic power of the educated citizen to resist what can only be called an ideologically driven power grab:

"Walker, who has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal, which was once among Pennsylvania’s largest coal mining companies. He also owns or has an interest in 12 other companies, including a trucking business and a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company. Walker was Corbett’s first appointee—he chose him to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development in December, before taking office. Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking."

It's all in the "budget": Huge profits for gas companies--many of whom will wisk their profits right out of the Commonwealth--and a devastated environment for Pennsylvania citizens to clean up--all the while we're trying to figure out how to pay our mortgages and educate our kids.

And it's all about as democratic as Scott Walkers obliteration of collective bargaining in Wisconsin: "It’s not clear how Corbett can delegate such sweeping authority to the economic development office, which would be reorganized to focus on coordinating with corporate interests and creating job growth. It also isn’t clear how the state would address the legal conflicts that could arise if, for example, [C. Alan] Walker pushed for approval of a permit that conflicted with the Clean Water Act or other federal laws."

But here's Corbett's statement: "The budget introduced today represents a completely new way of doing business for DCED and its economic development partners,” the statement said. “In a tough economic climate, we need to send a powerful message to the Pennsylvania Business Community that Pennsylvania is open for business."

You bet. First it's our environment. When will it be our schools? Universities? Colleges?

The aims are abundantly clear. Corbett's goals are a carbon copy of Scott Walkers: Sell off Pennsylvania to corporate interests--especially those through whom he stands to gain the most. Too bad Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast might not get away with a second round of pretending to be the Koch Brothers. But perhaps we don't need him--Corbett's aims are as clear as the contributions made to his campaign by C. Alan Walker:

"Walker’s ties to the energy industry are deep. He is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He also has firsthand experience with the state’s environmental regulations, because his companies would likely have applied for permits similar to those the oil and gas industry is now pursuing in the Marcellus. And like many energy companies, his, too, have run into problems with the state. In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater as required by state and federal law."

Beautiful, yes? And so transparent: "The Governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the policy shift, the role of the economic development office, or funding for the DEP. Spokespeople for both the DEP and the state Attorney General’s office also declined to comment, saying that only the Governor’s office could speak to the issue" (

A new state slogan: Pennsylvania, Inc.--Just like Wisconsin and Michigan--only Dirtier, Dumber, and Poorer. But who cares? Gas Executives don't have to Live Here!

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA, USA 17815

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Dear fellow colleagues, administration, and especially students,

Though we cannot abandon hope that our local representatives--John Gordner and David Millard--will work to resist a PA-budget that can only be described as grossly irresponsible, we cannot trust them either. Here's what Millard said to reporters right after Corbett announced his budget proposal: "Obviously, if you're going to shift money...there's going to be losers" (Press Enterprise, 3.9.11).

"Shift"? That's code for more tax payer dollars going to prisons and to the subsidizing of the natural gas industry in a state that graces 70% of its corporates entities with paying NO corporate income taxes.

Corbett's aims, moreover, have as little to do with fiscal responsibility as do Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's, namely, zero. Corbett's aims are ideological; his strategy is simply different. Instead of going after the right to collective bargaining directly--and risking the public outrage this despotic move rightly inspires--Corbett goes after the funding of precisely those institutions whose workforces are unionized. Corbett's aim is simply to accomplish without all the noise the same goal--union-busting. Perhaps it would be better to call Corbett's strategy "union-bleeding," or "union-gutting."

But make no mistake about it--his objectives are precisely the same--his strategy's just more insidious. And his objectives are to effectively sell-off Pennsylvania, its labor force, and its resources to the corporations that support his party: The Tea Party Republicans. There is no point in being polite or "carefully worded" about this fact. This is a fact.

The sentiment that "the university system will survive" is a nice one--but it is no more than that. If what survives is a shell easily converted into a trade school whose primary curricula cannot be but trivially called "education," then it would be better for it not to survive.

I am in no way suggesting that we are at this point--but what I am suggesting is that this is no time for hopeful pleasantries with our elected representatives. This is a time where we must FIGHT:

FIGHT for our student's right to a real education.

Fight for the right to collectively bargain for a decent wage and decent working conditions.

FIGHT for a university system worthy of that title.

For if we don't, we will have earned precisely what we deserve: a gutted PASSHE that makes a mockery of the phrase "PUBLIC higher education."

Let us take up this fight together.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
Department of Philosophy
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
Bloomsburg, PA, USA 17815