PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A lively second debate between Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Democratic challenger Tom Wolf became tense Wednesday as Wolf sought to assign blame to Corbett for budget deficits and struggling schools while Corbett tried to frame Wolf as the candidate who will favor labor unions over taxpayers.
Corbett and Wolf met during the one-hour “Breakfast with the Candidates” event at KYW-TV and KYW-AM in Philadelphia, answering questions by station reporters.
Wolf set the tone by going on offense immediately, turning a question about how quickly he can promise to increase the quality of public schools in Pennsylvania into an attack.
“It’s a matter of priorities, governor,” Wolf said to Corbett. “You have not been a friend of education.”
Corbett responded immediately, even talking over Wolf to make his point.
“I would disagree with you,” Corbett said. “We have been a very good friend of education. I have not been a friend of unions.”
Corbett also was asked about hundreds of office emails containing pornographic videos and images that his employees were said to have exchanged while Corbett was attorney general.
He said he was disappointed in his employees because he had strict rules against such emails, and had he received one, he would have stopped the practice immediately.
Wolf again turned the matter into an attack, suggesting that Corbett bore responsibility for setting a culture that allowed it happen. After the debate, Corbett called that assertion a “cheap shot.”
Wolf is heading into the final weeks of the campaign with a cash edge and a hefty lead in the polls that Corbett has been unable to crack. A Wolf victory in the Nov. 4 election would break a four-decade tradition of governors winning a second term.
Wednesday’s event was the second of three debates to which the candidates have agreed. The last scheduled debate is Oct. 8 at a Pittsburgh TV station. Last week, the men met at a Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry dinner in Hershey, where Wolf often avoided attacking Corbett directly.
In this debate, however, the pair often talked over each other, or directly challenged each other’s statements. Perhaps the tensest moment came when Wolf criticized Corbett’s handling of the state’s finances. Wolf accused Corbett of “cooking the books,” a reference that he later said was to Corbett’s reliance on a large number of one-time “gimmicks” to balance the budget.
Corbett took umbrage: “So you’re accusing me of a criminal act?”
“I’m accusing you of overestimating what the revenues were going to be in the last year’s budget. We were $700 million short,” Wolf responded.
Corbett replied that, in many years, tax collections have fallen short of estimates.
The pair also jousted over how to address the state’s rising payments into public employee pension funds. Corbett defended his proposals to reduce benefits, while Wolf said he didn’t think it was fair to solve the problem on the backs of public sector employees.
“I know why he doesn’t agree with it,” Corbett said, launching into an attack on Wolf. “His chief supporters are the public sector unions and they contributed millions of dollars to his campaign.”
Multiple questions involved education, a top issue for voters.
On education funding, Corbett said he understands that people want more money for schools. But he promised no increases, saying the state has “tight, limited budgets.”
At another point, he said, “You have to ask the question, ‘How much is enough?'”
Wolf pledged that parents can expect to see smaller class sizes if he is elected, in part thanks to his plan to seek higher taxes on Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry. Corbett opposes raising taxes on the industry.