Onorato makes case for governor

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As he has in his television ads, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato stressed his executive experience over his Republican opponent, state Attorney General Tom Corbett. Unlike his ads, he joked he would not ask the New Pittsburgh Courier editorial board to spell his name.

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PULLING TOGETHER—Gubernatorial candidate and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says Democrats are coming together and tightening the race between himself and Tom Corbett. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

Onorato, who has served as county executive since 2003, is an attorney and an accountant, who served as a city councilman and county controller prior to his two terms heading the state’s second-largest government.

“I think our resumes tell the tale. I’ve run the county for seven years. He’s been a prosecutor,” said Onorato. “I’ve balanced budgets, reduced spending and managed a huge government. He hasn’t done that.”

Onorato said the differences between himself and Corbett are stark and ideological. Onorato wants a severance tax placed on natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale deposit. Corbett, he said, supports no extraction tax. Onorato said he would also require gas drillers to hire Pennsylvanians.

However, if he were governor, Onorato said he would veto the severance tax plan passed by the Democratically-controlled state House.

“Oh, that was terrible, way too high. But we have to have something. Every other state does. I say we take the average,” he said. “And I wouldn’t let it go into the general fund for everyone’s pet projects. I’d have some go to replace funds the Department of Environmental Protection has lost, some to municipalities to pay for environmental and road repair and some for brownfield reclamation.”

Even with a near billion dollar deficit looming, Onorato said there are ways to get the budget under control without drastic cuts to government services, particularly education funding, he said Corbett proposes. A huge chunk could come from the Department of Corrections, he said, if the state altered sentencing criteria and got out of the business of building prisons.

“We need alternative sentencing, so we can keep the prisons for those who really need to be there,” he said. “We’ve instituted programs at the county jail that have reduced recidivism by 41 percent. If we did that statewide, we’d never have to build another jail.”

Onorato also said the state can’t hold on to huge amounts of “discretionary” funds when the state is in tough financial straits. He proposes a 20 percent, across-the-board cut in the cost of the legislature, which by most metrics is the costliest state government in the country.

“They are sitting on $200 million and we’re talking about cutting bus service,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. I’m going to go after those pots of money.”

Onorato also said diversity would be a priority in his administration.

“Not just race, but gender and even geographic diversity,” he said. “My administration has been the most diverse the county’s ever had and I will continue that as governor—even before because it will apply to my transition team.”

Onorato also favors tightening gun ownership laws to require child safety locks, timely reporting of lost or stolen guns and closing the “Florida loophole” that allows those denied a Pennsylvania gun permit to get one in Florida, which in turn is legal here.

The biggest differences between himself and Corbett, he said, concern national issues, specifically President Obama’s stimulus spending and nationalized healthcare. Onorato has supported both. Corbett is one of 18 state attorneys general challenging the constitutionality of “Obamacare.”

On state specific issues, Onorato said he wants Courier readers to support him because he would increase spending in areas he said Corbett wants to cut, education, human services and mass transit.

“I think we’ll win because our plan is better,” he said.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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