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Corbett may have lost some budget support

HARRISBURG - A new poll suggests a rift has opened between Gov. Corbett and many Pennsylvanians when it comes to taxing and spending.

HARRISBURG - A new poll suggests a rift has opened between Gov. Corbett and many Pennsylvanians when it comes to taxing and spending.

The survey, by Franklin and Marshall College, found six in 10 residents support a tax on natural-gas drillers. An even larger majority - nearly eight in 10 - opposes deep cuts to public education.

Both positions run counter to the Republican governor's stances. Corbett has steadfastly opposed taxing the growing Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry, and last week proposed a $1 billion cut in education funding in order to balance the state's $27.3 billion budget.

"Voters are conflicted," said G. Terry Madonna, Franklin and Marshall's poll director. "They don't want general tax hikes, and generically, they want cuts. But they don't like the governor's cuts."

To wit: Asked to consider various ways to balance the budget, only one in five favored cutting aid to school districts; two in three rejected deep cuts in aid to state-supported colleges, as Corbett has proposed.

The governor, speaking in Scranton on Thursday, repeated that he will stick to his no-tax pledge regardless of public opinion. He has vigorously opposed a tax on gas drilling, saying the state "needs to grow this industry."

"We didn't campaign based on polls, and we're not going to govern based on a poll," Corbett said, addressing the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. "Most people in the general public think if we tax Marcellus Shale, it solves our budget problem. It doesn't solve our budget problem. Not by a long shot."

Corbett's budget speech was March 9; the poll, cosponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News and other media outlets, was conducted March 10 to 14 by telephone and expanded to sample cellular-phone users. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Most of 521 residents polled said they favor taxing smokeless tobacco and selling the state liquor stores - neither of which is in Corbett's immediate budget plan, though he favors selling the stores.

Asked to rate his overall job performance, 31 percent said good or excellent, 39 percent said fair, and 13 said poor; 18 percent were undecided.

Since Corbett's swearing-in two months ago, protesters who want the Marcellus Shale drilling taxed or curtailed have dogged his public appearances. When about 40 turned up at the Scranton event, Corbett had a ready comeback.

"People have differences of opinion," he told reporters afterward. "I got booed in Pittsburgh along the parade route, but there were many more cheers. This job isn't one where people will be cheering for you all the time."