Some people call them the elite.

He calls them his base.

And so, when Gov. Corbett - under fire for a state budget plan with deep cuts to public schools and universities - made a rare public appearance in Philadelphia last night, the business-friendly Republican could not have picked a friendlier audience.

A couple of hundred of the city's business leaders attended the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce annual event, "A Conversation With the Governor," at the Academy of Natural Sciences - where Corbett talked vouchers, fracking and a range of controversial topics with the host, WHYY's Marty Moss-Coane. Afterward, Corbett took questions from reporters for less than 10 minutes while the guests sipped wine and sampled gourmet cheese.

The governor bristled somewhat when asked why he's rarely seen at Philadelphia venues like Temple University, where administrators have pondered how much they can hike tuition on middle-class students to deal with an expected drop of 25 percent or more in state aid under Corbett.

"I've been down in Philadelphia a lot - you just don't know about it," Corbett said, without elaborating. "Right now, I'm out there; I'm working with the Legislature trying to get a budget passed. I think we've been clear on where we are on the issues. We've been keeping the promises that I made."

Those promises include keeping spending at the level set by his administration of $27.3 billion - "that's the number," Corbett said flatly - and never raising taxes, even if that means keeping Pennsylvania as the only one of the top 15 gas-producing states without a severance tax on drillers.

Although Corbett's approval rating has dropped as low as 34 percent in a recent poll, the first-year governor is sticking to his mantra of lower taxes, more competition in education and less regulation of business by Harrisburg.

Under pressure for his administration's favorable treatment of natural-gas drilling, or fracking, Corbett told Moss-Coane that he has information about what chemicals the drillers use in the controversial process, even though the public does not.

"I've seen pamphlets of what's in the chemicals, many of those chemicals. . . . Do you have lipstick on right now?" Corbett asked.

"I do," said Moss-Coane.

"It might be in your lipstick," replied Corbett. He said some of the chemicals - which environmentalists have blamed for polluting nearby water supplies - might be the "intellectual property" of individual companies, but he said that state officials are looking at stronger regulations.

On another hot-button issue, Corbett not only reiterated his support for school vouchers that would help pay some students to attend private or religious schools, but suggested that a similar concept should be looked at for college students.

"Should we be funding the school or, in higher ed, funding the student, and not just to attend the state-related schools?" Corbett asked. "We have a lot of private schools in Pennsylvania. Allow them to take the money anywhere they want in Pennsylvania."

Corbett told his audience that recent years have shown that more money has not made public schools perform better but that competition caused by vouchers might finally inspire improvement - although he didn't explain exactly how that would happen in an era of reduced funding.

Some wealthy voucher advocates, like Betsy DeVos, of the American Federation for Children, have been accused of seeking to cripple public education, but Corbett insisted that that is not his goal.

"That's not my goal at all - we need public education," Corbett said. "But public education can't continue to have public-school systems with a 50 percent dropout rate."