A new progressive group -- with one of those names that sounds so harmless that it sort of creeps you out -- is launching a TV ad targeting Gov. Tom Corbett's budget priorities.
The ad, "Shell Game," blasts Corbett for presiding over education layoffs and cuts in public school spending, while extending tax breaks to corporations. (Or, as the ad puts it, " [A]fter thousands of teacher layoffs, Corbett continues to shortchange our schools, while paying for-- you guessed it -- another round of giveaways for his campaign donors.") The ad also notes a controversy surrounding Corbett's acceptance of gifts from UPMC and other corporate behemoths. You can view the ad here:
Republicans have already attacked the ad, saying it misstates Corbett's record. Since his first budget, Corbett has said responsibility for the cuts falls on the federal government and his Democratic predecessor, Ed Rendell. Rendell had plugged holes in the education budget with $1 billion in federal stimulus money, which ran out as Corbett took office. Corbett has increased the amount of state money that goes to education -- though not nearly enough to offset federal cuts.
And that's the point, says Lynsey Kryzwick, a spokesperson for Pennsylvanians for Accountability.
"Parents all over Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania can tell you they're seeing bigger classes, and cuts to programs in schools." And as the ad points out, while that was going on, Corbett set a "severance tax" on Marcellus Shale gas drilling that was highly favorable to the industry, while advancing other tax breaks for corporations. (One liberal group warns today that a proposal in his next budget, a cut in the corporate net income tax rate, could cost some $800 million a year.
Corbett "has been talking about the tough choices in budgets for the past three years," says Kryzwick. "But he had a choice to pass a fair severance tax, and to close the Delaware loophole. And what we've seen, what the ad addresses, is that he chose instead to keep those tax loopholes there."
Kryzwick says the ad -- which comes as the state legislature is weighing Corbett's budget for 2013-14 -- is running in Pittsburgh and four other markets: Erie, Johnstown/Altoona, Harrisburg, and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The ad's sponsor is "Pennsylvanians for Accountability" -- though like an increasing number of organizations on both sides of the partisan divide, it doesn't really offer a full accounting of itself. It's a 501(c)(4) organization which, under the federal tax code, is allowed to engage in political advertising without disclosing its donors. However, according to registration on file with Pennsylvania's Department of State, the organization's business address is Pittsburgh's The Union Project. State records suggest that Pennsylvanians for Accountability shares office space with the Pennsylvania chapter of America Votes, an umbrella political-advocacy organization established by unions and other progressive groups.
Asked about who the Pennsylvanians for Accountability are, exactly, Kryzwick characterized them as "a non-profit group of concerned taxpayers who want to make sure the public sees and hears about the dishonest proposals in the Governor's budget." She declined to elaborate.