Corbett’s meatballs


How can Gov. Tom Corbett claim he increased the budget for Philadelphia’s public schools while the folks responsible for running the public schools declare he cut their budget? For answers to this and other pressing questions about the 2014 race for governor, I went to that well-known expert on politics, my Uncle Nunzio.

Uncle likes to use food comparisons to drive home his point. Here’s what he told me. He said assume that under the previous governor, Ed Rendell, the school budget was two meatballs (stay with me here). When President Barack Obama kick-started the economy with his stimulus package, some of it went to the nation’s schools. Sticking with the meatball analogy, the stimulus added another meatball to the Philadelphia schools’ budget. This meant the schools had a budget of three meatballs. Enter the new governor, Tom Corbett.

Republicans hate any taxes. In fact, if a Republican were being attacked by a great white shark and it took enacting a new tax to make the shark disappear, without hesitation they would become shark food. Note: To understand Republicans, you must ignore, as they do, that the sainted Ronald Reagan actually raised taxes 11 times while he was president. Corbett is a Republican. He likely keeps a picture of Reagan in his wallet like you or I would keep a picture of Roy Halladay. In the meantime, Obama’s temporary stimulus ended, and the Republicans in Congress opposed extending it. That meant, among other things, the Philadelphia public schools lost a meatball.

Corbett had a budget problem and needed to create a balance. In order for our schools to get their lost meatball back, he would have to be the one to replace it. However, he had a budget problem. In order for Corbett to return the meatball to the schools’ budget, he would have needed to impose a new tax or raise existing taxes. Philadelphia schools are about as popular in the rest of the state (in fact, make that Philadelphia) as the ebola virus (in fact, make that Philadelphia too). Maybe Corbett could have convinced his supporters in the legislature to impose a tax on the fracking industry (fracking is a process that extracts natural gas and sometimes makes our drinking water flammable). Keep in mind that Pennsylvania is the only major fracking state that does not impose an extraction tax on frackers (OK, that might not be a word, but I don’t have a better one). Note also that Republicans detest taxing businesses or anyone making more than a million dollars a year and who votes Republican and/or contributes to the Republican Party.

This is where the picture gets muddy, or should I say the gravy gets thicker? Corbett cut a little of this and lot of that, but he did not cut money for the schools. In fact, Corbett (no doubt feeling very magnanimous) gave the schools about enough ground meat to make a Whopper Jr. I think this is a good time to recap. The schools went from three meatballs with the Obama stimulus, then back to the two meatballs under the previous administration and finally to the current situation, where they have two meatballs and a tiny patty of meat you might call a Whopper Jr.

The folks who support the Philly schools screamed that no decent-sized family could exist on two meatballs and a Whopper Jr. without laying off teachers and letting the students bring their own folding chairs to school on which to sit. They claimed Corbett had CUT the school budget. The governor (no doubt taking his cue from Burger King) cried that his opponents were telling a whopper. He, Tom Corbett, had INCREASED the schools’ budget over what the previous Rendell Administration had authorized. While making this claim, opponents say that Corbett blinked his baby blue eyes several times, but I wouldn’t necessarily draw any conclusions from that fact. Corbett didn’t mention the extra meatball the schools had received from the Obama stimulus. In truth, one can’t expect a Republican to say anything positive about the Obama stimulus for fear of breaking out into a terrible rash (is Calamine lotion still available?).

Understanding the vast difference in size between one of Aunt Millie’s meatballs is a prerequisite for understanding the nature of the plight of Philadelphia schools (rumor has it that after you ate one of Aunt Millie’s meatballs, you couldn’t go near a swimming pool for three days without getting severe cramps).

Democrat Tom Wolf is running against Corbett. Wolf wants to tax the fracking industry to help give the Philly schools back their lost meatball. I admit, when looking at Wolf, as Uncle Nunzi says, one has to wonder whether he has really ever met an Italian meatball. But let’s leave that aside for the moment or possibly another column.

Know I am not claiming the election will swing on the issue of Philly schools and their voracious hunger for meatballs. There are many other issues, such as whether Corbett used an actress in his ad claiming Wolf is a hypocrite or where the hell Wolf’s factory is located or if some Republicans hold their nose when their own candidate is in the vicinity, can you really just blame the fracking industry?

I’ll just leave you with this thought: It seems like Corbett has big meatballs, except where the schools are concerned.

Contact the South Philly Review at