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As Pennsylvania race kicks off, governor faces disapproval

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett makes remarks concerning Penn State University during a news conference near State College, Pennsylvania,
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett makes remarks concerning Penn State University during a news conference near State College, Pennsylvania,

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett could be in for a difficult re-election fight, with more than half of the state's voters saying he should not be elected to a second term in November, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Wednesday.

The poll found the Republican governor's approval rating had fallen to 36 percent - his lowest since being elected in 2010 - with 53 of registered voters disapproving of his job performance.

Corbett, who previously served as the state's attorney general and came into office promising to slash government spending, launched his re-election campaign last month. He has struggled to get key policy initiatives through the Republican-controlled state legislature, and new numbers out from his administration on Wednesday show a possible $1.2 billion state budget shortfall next fiscal year.

Pennsylvania budget secretary Charles Zogby said in a mid-year update that personnel costs are set to rise in fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, in part because of a 15 percent increase in the cost of pension, healthcare and other benefits over the current year.

State agencies were told to maintain level funding next year, which equates to an 8 percent cut because of personnel cost increases, Zogby said. Pennsylvania brought in nearly $9.9 billion of revenue during the first five months of this fiscal year, about $43 million more than anticipated, on a roughly $28 billion general fund budget.

Democrats in the Pennsylvania state Senate have proposed measures they say would generate about $1 billion in revenue and savings. The biggest item: expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which could generate $400 million for the state, Democrats said.

"This governor, this Republican-controlled House, this Republican-controlled Senate, (have) taken Pennsylvania down a very dangerous path," said state Sen. Vincent Hughes, Democratic appropriations chairman, in a call with reporters.

He noted that the state's credit rating has fallen, and it's facing a budget, jobs and educational deficit, especially compared to neighboring states.

"Folks are looking to go in a different direction," he said.

More than 60 percent of Pennsylvania voters gave Corbett negative ratings on his handling of taxes, education and government spending. They were almost evenly divided on whether he is honest and trustworthy, and a strong leader.

While six in 10 Republicans approve of his performance, most Democrats and Independents do not, the poll found.

"Pennsylvania voters deliver a big bag of coal to Gov. Tom Corbett and directions to the State House exit as he heads into the holidays with the worst net approval rating he has ever had," said Quinnipiac's Tim Malloy. "The governor has 11 months to turn things around."

The telephone survey of 1,061 registered voters was conducted from December 11-16 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson)

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