Onorato threatens to withhold drilling permits

Image courtesy of DEP

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato says he’d pressure natural gas drilling companies to hire Pennsylvania residents by threatening to withhold state drilling permits.

Both Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett say they want more Pennsylvanians employed at natural gas drilling sites. Right now, a majority of well workers come from out of state. Both candidates promise to commit to training commonwealth residents to do the complicated jobs, but Onorato says he’d go a step further.

Onorato says he’d be justified to use permits as leverage, arguing, “I think all governors apply pressure on every industry. The whole idea of being governor is you try to bring jobs and improve the economy of your state. We have a golden opportunity here, with the Marcellus Shale find. But we get one chance to get it right.”

The problem is, Onorato’s idea isn’t legal. “It’s not what we do,” says Governor Rendell. “And you might be able to do that, but you’d probably have to change some regulations or get some legislation.” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, who oversees well permitting, agrees. “That’s not one of the grounds for rejecting a permit in the Oil and Gas Act,” he explains, adding he worries a measure mandating companies hire Pennsylvanians would run afoul of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.

Still, Hanger applauds Onorato’s mindset. “I think it’s more than reasonable for Pennsylvania  public officials to turn up the heat on getting Pennsylvanians hired,” he says, pointing out companies have been drilling in the Marcellus formation since 2005. “We want Pennsylvanians to be hired. I think everyone has seen the proliferation of Texas, Wyoming and other out of state plates on trucks and all sorts of vehicles around Marcellus operations.”

What does Corbett think about Onorato’s proposal? “That’s  quite a threat that he has out there. My idea is, we get the people trained, they’re going to hire our people. And that solves the problem.” Would Corbett use permits as leverage, I asked during a campaign appearance. “I don’t threaten people,” he said.

The continuing lifespan of “jobs are there”

Both John Baer of the Daily News and PA2010’s Dan Hirshhorn have written thoughtful analysis pieces on Tom Corbett’s “the jobs are there” comment, and what  both his and Dan Onorato’s campaign reactions — or non-reactions — to the gaffe says about their  strategy.

Baer writes about how Team Corbett has done its best to simply ignore the Onorato campaign’s ongoing offensive. “Corbett’s campaign manager did not return a phone call. Corbett’s campaign Web site last night showed “no upcoming events,” and the last news release listed was, ironically, “Tom Corbett Visits With Business Owners in Downtown Elizabethtown,” from the July 9 event at which he made the controversial remark.”

In sharp contrast, writes Hirschhorn, Team Onorato has morphed into “all jobs, all the time” mode. “Over a seven-day stretch this month, Democrat Dan Onorato held events in six cities, criticizing gubernatorial rival Tom Corbett at every stop for his comments about unemployed Pennsylvanians. His campaign blasted reporters more than half-a-dozen releases, produced a Web video and started an online petition. In each city he visited, Onorato picked up earned media—campaign parlance for when the press covers a candidate’s activities. Newspaper editorial pages came down mostly on his side of things.”

I would add another element: the aggressive way a handful of newspapers have continued to write article after article about the comment, independent of Onorato’s PR blitz. Yesterday, Corbett complained that some outlets have distorted and changed his initial comments, pointing out at least one paper claimed he called the unemployed “lazy.” I think the AG has a legitimate point — Democratic strategists and some columnists have exaggerated the quote, and made it more broad-sweeping and offensive than what he actually told reporters in Elizabethtown.

The full remarks, as initially reported here, are:

“One of the issues, and I hear it repeatedly – one of the individuals said, ‘I can’t get workers. People don’t want to come back to work while they still have unemployment.’’ He said.  “They’re literally telling him, ‘I’ll come back to work when unemployment runs out.’ That’s becoming a problem.” “The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are going to sit there and – I’ve literally had construction companies tell me, I can’t get people to come back to work until…they say, I’ll come back to work when unemployment runs out.”

Onorato = Rendell — at least, according to Corbett

Last week’s Quinnipiac University poll found Pennsylvanians disapprove of Governor Rendell’s job performance by a 50-42 margin. On top of that, 55 percent of respondents say they DON’T want “Pennsylvania’s next governor to continue Ed Rendell’s policies.”

The numbers suggest Tom Corbett would do well to link Dan Onorato with Rendell as much as he can, and an email sent out by Corbett campaign manager Brian Nutt yesterday suggests Team Corbett is ramping up their efforts to do-so.

(Off-course diversion: the email’s headline, “Who You Gonna Call…the Gov”, reminds me of a great interview GQ recently conducted with  Bill Murray. Check it out. Anyway…)

Here’s the text:

Greetings!

When Onorato’s negative attacks on Tom Corbett last week found no traction with the Pennsylvania voters as evidenced by the most recent Rasmussen poll, he called on his mentor Governor Ed Rendell to pick up the ball.
This is a trend we saw begin in the primary.  When a large field of candidates meant Onorato needed state-wide commercials to win… who did he call?  Ed Rendell, whose “deep-pocketed” donors were, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, “on the Onorato bandwagon.”
And when those commercials needed a consultant, Rendell delivered again in the form of Neil Oxman, a known Rendell consultant who was advising the Onorato camp during the primary (Philadelphia Inquirer 5/20/2010).  The least he could do really for his “preferred choice.”  (Morning Call 5/2/2010)
Onorato’s go-to guy may not have been the best choice this time.  After all, according to recent polls the majority of Pennsylvanians feel Rendell and his policies are out of touch with the needs of this Commonwealth.  Who can blame them after the Rendell administration raised state spending by 40 percent, increased personal income taxes by almost 10 percent and has seen nearly a quarter of a million additional Pennsylvanians out of work?
Unfortunately, again we see Onorato following in Rendell’s footsteps with Allegheny County unemployment and spending on the rise in the time Onorato has had control.  It’s time for us to turn the corner on failed policies, political cronies and more of the same.
Help spread the word that we need Tom Corbett as our next Governor in order to leave the failure of the last 8 years behind.  Forward this email to your friends and family and encourage them to join our team as you have by visiting our website and sign up with their email.
Sincerely,
Brian Nutt
Campaign Manager
Tom Corbett for Governor

And finally, the commercial

From Team Onorato. A campaign spokesman says it’s running online, but not TV.

Onorato continues “Jobs tour ’10”

The Onorato campaign has just sent out a press release announcing an event in Scranton tomorrow. “Democratic nominee for Governor Dan Onorato will hold a press conference to discuss the economic situation in Pennsylvania and Tom Corbett’s recent comments.”

The Scranton presser will be the FOURTH event Onorato has held on Corbett’s “the jobs are there” comments, which the Republican nominee made last Friday in Lancaster County.  It follows press conferences in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Onorato: “jobs are there” comment shows Corbett is naive

Democrat Dan Onorato is pouncing on Republican Tom Corbett’s recent comments about unemployed workers who are turning down job offers.

During a campaign appearance in Lancaster County on Friday, Corbett said “the jobs are there,” but many workers are passing up opportunities in order to keep collecting unemployment benefits. Corbett says that’s what he’s been hearing from business owners across the state.

More than 500,000 Pennsylvanians are out of work, and the state’s unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.

Onorato says Corbett is out of touch. “To somehow turn this and put the blame on them, as though they don’t want a job because there might be an unemployment check out there. Well then you either have never known anybody who was unemployed, or you’re just naïve to the situation. Or you just don’t care.”

Onorato blasted Corbett for more than a half-hour, re-directing nearly every question back to the Attorney General’s comments.

Oddly, Onorato refused to take a solid stance on extending federal unemployment benefits during his press conference on…unemployment. He was asked at least three times whether he supports increasing benefits to 99 weeks, and never gave a definitive “yes” or “no.” “I wouldn’t be opposed to it,” he said after a second follow-up,  “but I’m not lobbying – that’s not my issue right now. My issue is to get jobs back to Pennsylvania. Congress has got to make a decision on what they think is best.”
At the same time Onorato spoke to Capitol reporters, Corbett held a campaign event in Lancaster County, and began to walk his comments back.  “People are perceiving it as insensitive. I don’t mean to be insensitive – that certainly wasn’t the intention,” Corbett told Capitolwire. “I’m not insensitive to it. I know that the people of Pennsylvania, we’ve got a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. We’ve got to improve that. I think I’ve talked about we need to improve it by getting more jobs to Pennsylvania, by keeping businesses in Pennsylvania, by reducing the cost of taxes in Pennsylvania, of doing business in Pennsylvania.”

Still, the head of a conservative trade association is backing Corbett up. Kevin Shivers, the executive director of Pennsylvania’s National Federation of Independent Businesses branch, says small business owners are telling his group they can’t find applicants for job openings.

Shivers says he hears the complaint at least once a week.

Reaction….

…to Attorney General Tom Corbett’s “the jobs are there” comments continues to flood in. The AFL-CIO and Pennsylvania Democratic Party have released statements condemning the remarks. Both the Commonwealth Foundation and Keystone Research Center have taken a look at unemployment statistics, as well. The right-leaning folks at the Commonwealth Foundation say Corbett is “right on unemployment compensation offer[ing] incentives for workers to refuse to take jobs, and to avoid seeking new jobs.” But they also conclude Corbett was “wrong to say ‘the jobs are there’ – at least not in terms of the number of job openings that would dramatically return our economy to the employment levels of a few years ago.”

The Keystone Research Center says that’s the whole point. The jobs AREN’T there. “As of May 2010 employment in Pennsylvania remains 3% or 184,000 jobs below its level in December 2007. At a comparable point in the two previous economic recoveries employment was just under 2% below its peak levels. And critically the number of unemployed workers per job opening remains substantially higher than normal.”

Here’s Democratic Chairman Jim Burn’s statement on Corbett’s comments. (Note the cribbing of Senator Ted Kennedy’s famous “In Robert Bork’s America…” speech.)

Pittsburgh: Tom Corbett’s insensitive and callous remarks claiming many unemployed Pennsylvanians “are purposefully remaining unemployed in order to collect benefits”, demonstrates how out of touch he is with the working families of our Commonwealth. Since becoming the Republican candidate for Governor, Tom Corbett has continually taken positions that lead on to believe he lives in a different Pennsylvania than the rest of us.

In Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania there is no need for unemployment benefits because there are plenty of jobs for everyone. In Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania there is no need for healthcare reform because the current healthcare system is working just fine. In Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania we don’t need millions of dollars of federal stimulus money because we don’t need jobs and our roads, bridges and schools don’t need improvement. Hanging-out at fundraisers with oil and gas company executives, Wall Street bankers and other wealthy Republican contributors, Tom Corbett sees a different Pennsylvania than the rest of us.

Tom Corbett needs to visit the Pennsylvania we live in and immediately apologize the unemployed workers he insulted with his inconsiderate remarks.

And here’s the AFL-CIO’s:

Harrisburg, PA – Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale is astonished to hear that Tom Corbett a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania believes that any of the 590,000 unemployed workers in Pennsylvania would much rather stay at home that to go to work.

Where Tom Corbett was canvassing when he made the remark, in Lancaster County, the Labor Department reported last month that the unemployment rate rose above 8 percent or over 25,000 workers.

“Unemployed workers would rather be working, feeding their families and paying the mortgage than living with the uncertainty of not having a job, earning less than half their wages and going without health care and pensions,” Bloomingdale said.

“We are asking Tom Corbett to tell us where are the jobs. Unemployment in the building and construction industry is at 30 percent in some areas of the State and the statewide unemployment is over 9 percent and higher in many counties,” Bloomingdale said.

“We invite Tom Corbett to sit down with unemployed workers and find out what it is like to live without a job. Unemployed workers are looking for work every day. The problem is that for every job opening there are many unemployed workers.

Democratic candidate Dan Onorato is holding a Capitol press conference on the subject in about twenty minutes, so more to come on this.

And now…

…the response to the response.

As noted earlier, Attorney General Tom Corbett made waves today by saying people are purposely staying unemployed in order to cash in on benefits. Dan Onorato’s campaign pounced, saying, “Tom Corbett doesn’t even recognize there’s a problem, so it’s no surprise that he has no real plan to improve our economy or actually create the jobs that in his mind already exist.”

Corbett’s spokesman, Kevin Harley, counters, “if there’s one thing Dan Onorato is an expert in, it’s unemployment,” noting the stat has gone up during Onorato’s tenure as Allegheny County Executive.

I have emailed the Onorato campaign to see whether they want to respond to Corbett’s response to Onorato’s response. Over the course of the primary, Onorato consistently countered the unemployment attack by saying Allegheny County’s jobless rate lagged behind the rest of the state’s.

Onorato, Corbett spar over borrowing measure

Republican Tom Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign is criticizing Governor Rendell for signing a 300 million dollar bond measure into law.

As part of the budget compromise, Governor Rendell and lawmakers agreed to raise Pennsylvania’s debt ceiling by $600 million. The governor is directing half of those funds to pet projects, and the General Assembly will distribute the remaining grants later this year.

Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley says the bond measures are irresponsible. “Now’s not the time to be borrowing more money to fund projects, regardless of their worth,” he says. “Fiscal discipline needs to be the order of the day, not continuing borrowing and spending and taxing.”

Harley adds Corbett isn’t against all debt projects. He just think this one is poorly timed.

Corbett’s opponent, Democrat Dan Onorato, says the Attorney General is playing to both sides of the aisle, when it comes to bond issues. Onorato’s campaign points out a Corbett policy paper, as Harley notes, supports “the prudent use of debt” to fund infrastructure projects. But in a Commonwealth Foundation candidate questionnaire, Corbett agreed the state shouldn’t take on any new debt. Onorato spokesman Brian Herman calls that a flip-flop. “He has agreed with the principle that Pennsylvania should not incur additional debt. He said it. He filled it out on the questionnaire. So if he’s saying now that sometimes it’s ok, again it’s just another example of his inconsistency.”

Harley maintains Corbett would have vetoed the bond measure. Herman wouldn’t give a clear-cut answer, saying Onorato’s stance would depend on how many jobs the various projects create.

More press release fun

Team Onorato wants YOU to know they’ve raised more than a million dollars in the past month. Here’s the full release.

PITTSBURGH: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato’s campaign announced today that it had received $1 million in donations in the one month period since the June 6 filing deadline.

Onorato’s campaign has raised over $2.5 million since Onorato won the May 18 Democratic Gubernatorial Primary by more than 20 points, bringing the campaign’s total raised to more than $12.4 million to date.

In addition to maintaining an aggressive fundraising pace, Onorato’s momentum is also reflected in recent polls, including a general election survey released Monday by Rasmussen Reports that shows Onorato gaining six points during the month of June.

“Our strong fundraising in the past month is just one sign of our growing support,” said campaign manager Kevin Kinross.  “Now that the primary is over, more people are becoming familiar with Dan’s record and they are responding to his message of economic growth and government reform.  Elections are about choices, and as we approach November, people are choosing Dan Onorato’s experienced leadership over Tom Corbett’s empty rhetoric.”

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