The best days for Pennsylvania – and for embattled Pennsylvania State University as well – lie ahead, predicts state Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley.
“We have a limited amount of dollars for a great amount of need,” acknowledged Cawley Monday afternoon. “This administration is absolutely committed to our promise of not raising taxes on the people of the commonwealth. And we’re not going to move on that, because that is the promise we made.
“We just have to make some tough choices and have the courage to get there. There will be a better economy. It will happen. We are very excited about the future for Pennsylvania. As long as government lives within its means…the best days are right around the corner.”
The 43-year-old lieutenant governor, who calls Bucks County home, was on the stage of Hotel Bethlehem’s ballroom for a taping of the local TV show “Business Matters.”
He was interviewed by Tony Iannelli, who is host of “Business Matters” and president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The gathering was hosted by the chamber’s Small Business Council and Public Policy Committee. Local business people were in the audience to watch the 23-minute taping and then meet Cawley at a reception.
The interview will air on “Business Matters” at 8 p.m. Aug. 6, on WFMZ-TV Channel 69.
When Iannelli asked about the NCAA’s penalties against Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, Cawley said what happened “was so heinous, so evil that it demanded a swift, firm reaction.” He said Governor Tom Corbett has asked Penn State to make it very clear “that not one dollar” of the NCAA’s $60 million fine will be paid with state taxpayer money. “That has to come out of their coffers.”
But he also said the Corbett administration is committed to working with Penn State “to repair the reputation of that great school.”
“Penn State is a world-class university that produces some of the most forward-thinking scholarly research anywhere to be found in the country or the world,” said Cawley. “The institution is bigger than any one program or any one facet.”
The lieutenant governor praised Corbett, his boss, as “a very thoughtful, thorough person who makes a decision based on the facts he can get.”
Cawley is more than one-and-a-half years into his four-year term as lieutenant governor. When asked about a possible second term, he said:
“If Governor Corbett will have me, I’d be honored to run with him.”
Cawley said on Inauguration Day in 2011, he and Corbett inherited a $4.2 billion state deficit. He said eight years earlier, when Republican Gov. Mark Schweiker left office, the state had several million dollars.
Without mentioning Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, Cawley said in the ensuing eight years, the state’s spending went up 40 percent but revenues only went up 25 percent. He said he and Corbett, who are Republicans, were determined to get the state’s fiscal house in order without raising taxes.
“We said we’re going to live within our means and we’re going to stop mortgaging our future. This is the direction we’ve chosen and we think it’s going to work.”
Cawley said the rapid growth of the natural gas business in the last couple of years is just one of several types of industries that will restore strength to the state’s economy.
“This is Pennsylvania, we should learn from the sins of our fathers,” said Cawley. “We’ve seen the timber industry boom and then bust. We’ve seen steel boom and then bust. Coal, boom and then bust.”
He added coal still is being mined in the state but it’s not as large a part of the economy as it was in the past. But he predicted the currently booming natural gas industry will not follow that pattern into bust.
He said natural gas producers are hiring hundreds of people and may continue producing gas for 20, 50 or even 100 years. And he said the natural gas industry wants tough regulation to protect residents and the environment because “bad actors are bad for business.”
Cawley, who chaired the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, said that natural gas production has benefited businesses all over Pennsylvania, including in the Lehigh Valley.
Regarding Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure, Cawley said a bridge being labeled as “structurally deficient” sometimes is a misnomer. He said it does not necessarily mean that bridge is on the verge of collapsing, adding it may just need paint or guide rails.
“There is a desperate infrastructure need in this state, but it might not be as dire as some are trying to make it out to be.”
When Iannelli raised the issue of skyrocketing pension costs threatening the fiscal future of Pennsylvania’s cities, Cawley said, “The time of a defined benefit plan, traditional pensions, has passed. It’s gone. We can no longer sustain it.
“No one’s saying we go to a 30-year-employee and say ‘Hey, we’re going to change it on you now’. But if you can’t go to a 20- or 30-year employee, can you go to a two-, three- or five-year employee and allow them to elect into a new plan?”