ALTHOUGH WE ARE still five days away from the official inauguration, the Gov. Corbett era has begun.
Corbett and his transition team have signaled that he won't commit state funds to continue the adultBasic program, which provides subsidized health coverage to low-income working people, nor does he plan to pressure insurance companies to continue contributing to the cost of the program. Instead, adultBasic recipients will be referred to a higher-cost plan with less coverage.
About 41,000 people are enrolled in the adultBasic program - with 400,000 on the waiting list. Uninsured people who work full time at low wages pay about $36 per month. Now, they will either be without insurance or have to pay between $80 and $140 per month for another plan.
The program, launched by Gov. Tom Ridge in 2001, was funded by money from the tobacco-settlement fund. Gov. Rendell expanded the program in 2005 by pressuring Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which had large surpluses, to contribute to the program as part of their charitable mission.
Over the past six years, these insurers have provided $900 million to subsidize insurance rates, with the state kicking in about $50 million in the last three years. Rendell and the Legislature agreed in June to keep the program funded for six months, but funding beyond February was never resolved.
Although it's rare for a incoming governor to get directly involved in the nuts and bolts of programs and policy before being inaugurated, Corbett's apparent decision to not commit additional state funds or push for the renewal of the agreement with insurers should shock no one.
Throughout his campaign, Corbett maintained that Pennsylvania's spending has grown out of control under outgoing Rendell and pledged to fill an estimated $4 billion hole in the state budget without raising taxes. That's an obvious recipe for cuts to programs like adultBasic.
Still, Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the end of the popular program was the fault of Rendell. Harley also criticized Rendell for not informing participants of adultBasic's end.
The challenges that Corbett faces are daunting - but he shouldn't turn them into a political blame game.
The state faces a tsunami of fiscal challenges, including exploding prison costs, growing pension payments, and tax revenues that are still below normal. But blaming Rendell for the situation is short-sighted.
After all, budget problems are hardly a left/right issue. Texas, home of low taxes, weak public-sector unions, and fiscal conservatives, has a $25 billion budget deficit over the next two years. Meanwhile, deep-blue New York is looking at a $9 billion deficit in FY12. It's the same story across the country, where governments have raised taxes, made deep cuts, and laid off thousands of public-sector workers.
Our budget woes are part of a tough new reality that every governor must grapple with. Making them out to be the fault of a single administration is not only wrong, but keeps the budget conversation in the same old rut of political blame. Corbett must know his prescription to fix Pennsylvania's woes - tax cuts and big reductions in state spending - could cause harm to many. He should acknolwedge that, and not try to lay the blame elsewhere.