No, Tom Wolf Can’t Govern Pennsylvania

“I can’t cave,” the governor says. That’s the problem.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf's hopes of ending Pennsylvania's 99-day-old state budget impasse were dashed Wednesday when nine of his fellow Democrats joined all House Republicans to vote against his revised plan to raise billions in income and gas drilling taxes.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with members of the media Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

A year ago today, as Tom Wolf’s never-in-doubt campaign to unseat Gov. Tom Corbett wound down to its final weeks, I asked a simple question about what would happen after the election: Could Wolf actually govern the state of Pennsylvania?

It wasn’t a mean-spirited question, just a problem of math: Even with overwhelming support getting into office, Wolf — a Democrat, remember — was likely to face an overwhelmingly Republican legislature. Governing is hard. Governing when your rivals control one of the other branches of government? Not impossible, exactly, but excruciatingly difficult.

A year later, we seem to have an answer to the question: No, Tom Wolf is not a very good governor. At least, not yet.

What he is is stubborn. And that may score him points with his political base — nobody who is deeply invested in politics likes compromise — but it’s not serving the citizens of the commonwealth all that well.

Need an example? Just look at today’s news: Even though his tax hike proposals have been rejected by the legislature, and even though the state budget is more than 100 days late — even Ed Rendell was timelier — Wolf’s inclination is not to budge one inch.

“I think there’s a dawning awareness that I’m not going to cave on this,” Wolf told a Pittsburgh radio station today. “I can’t cave on this.”

Here’s the problem, though: Wolf hasn’t been asked to cave. He campaigned on a promise to restore education funding and to pay for it using a new tax on the Marcellus Shale. In August, Republicans offered a deal where they’d approve $400 million in new education funding and the taxes to pay for it — as long as Wolf signed off on a pension reform package for state employees he’d previously vetoed.

It would’ve given Wolf a major victory on a signature issue, but it would’ve required compromising on one of two issues — pensions being one, liquor privatization being the other — that everybody knows he’ll have to compromise on to get any part of his agenda passed. Two months later there’s still no deal.

All of this led to Governing magazine choosing this month to give Wolf a mixed rating for his governorship: “Observers say he could secure new education money using proceeds from a natural gas severance tax and an increase in the personal income tax, in exchange for such Republican priorities as a state employee pension overhaul and a green light for grocery stores to sell beer and wine,” the magazine says. “But agreeing to such a deal would draw fire from public employee and other labor unions, and so far Wolf hasn’t pulled the trigger.”

Here’s how bad it’s gotten: Republicans and Democrats in the legislature are now talking about having budget talks only with each other: Under this scenario, Wolf would be cut out of the budget process entirely. Sidelined.

What does that tell you, that such a measure is being considered?

Wolf’s stubbornness has long been manifest, ranging from his inaugural decision not to serve Yuengling beer to his decision to stick by his (failed) nominee for state police commissioner long past the point of political viability. Wolf came to the governorship from business, remember: He’s used to giving orders, not to negotiating with rivals. It shows.

There’s something admirable about Wolf’s professed desire not to kick the can down the road, to wait until he can get a deal that fixes all the problems — a $2 billion deficit included — facing the state of Pennsylvania. But politics is the art of the possible, and the big fixes Wolf seeks aren’t available to him right now, at least not on his terms. Better to grab the smaller opportunities available now, declare victory, and fight another day. Sometimes you take half a loaf.

The alternative? Risk utter ineffectuality.

Wolf, remember, made a big deal about Corbett’s inability to get stuff done. It was part of the rationale for making Corbett the only single-term Pennyslvania governor during the modern era.  

“You weren’t able to work with your own party’s members in the Legislature,” Wolf sniffed at Corbett during a debate. “I certainly will do no worse than that.”

He hasn’t done any better. But there’s still time to make a change.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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  • su2lly

    When you have about 15% of the legislative body teetering between insane and criminally insane, you’re not going to accomplish much. They want a 2015 budget based off of false revenue figures and a 2004 tax rate. It’s not going to work. Throw in the fact that they’ve sold their souls to the Frackers and this is the perfect storm of extremists holding Pennsylvanian’s money hostage and the rest being afraid of their own shadow.

    • ToBeHonest

      Wolf is fighting more than just 15% of the legislative body. He is fighting his own party because he refuses to compromise. He is the person teetering between insane and criminally insane here.

      • su2lly

        When you have legislator’s bringing in white supremacists to speak about the virtues of “English Only” , I think we know who needs fitted for the straight jacket.

        • Hamiltonian

          Metcalfe is nuts, but he’s one person, Wolf will never get his vote, his problem is he need a lot of Republicans to vote for his plans and he can’t get even one.

        • Mike

          OMG, are you serious? Did you ever hear of cuts? If this were a business, they would have closed their doors and all the employees jobless. Enough of the raise taxes, any fool can do that but it takes intelligence to make smart decisions. Taxing only leads to more spending and more corruption.

          • swampcreek

            I don’t know where Wolf gets the idea businesses don’t negotiate and compromise. Businesses constantly negotiate with customers, vendors, employees, stockholders, you name it. He’s being an intransigent jerk trying to prove he’s the boss.

        • CreightonRabs

          You might want to check your meds. Because your comments in this thread are borderline incoherent.

    • Hamiltonian

      Tom Wolf’s plan went up for a vote and he only got 73 votes. You can’t blame everything on Daryl Metcalfe. Right now, the GOP is likely to pass their own budget with the help of whatever Dems are wise enough.

      • Mike

        I always hear progressives touting “reach across the aisles” and if you don’t you’re an obstructionist. However, when one of their own does it (Wolf) he’s a hero. No, he’s fighting for his union buddies and not the citizens of PA. He’s Obama Jr!

        • su2lly

          So taxing gas extraction like every other state that has the stuff under ground would be a gift to unions? Man this gets crazier and crazier.

          • Mike

            They’re already taxed and if you tax them more guess who ends up paying for it…yes, us…the citizen in higher costs. Cut!!! Enough of the freaking “taxing is the answer” BS!

          • su2lly

            What is BS is the tax they pay. It’s small and gets smaller every year. So if PA taxes the stuff the way every single other state does the price will go up? It might go up…in Europe, where soon 80% of it will be shipped. You’ll end up paying even higher taxes if you keep buying what they’re selling.

  • Bill Craig

    Help the down trodden in Philadelphia and Harrisburg and all over the state .. Just another dollar.. this time..please.. NO…. People in Bensalem and Lancaster County and other nice communities are tired of seeing PHA and the Arlene Akermans of the world waste 100s of millions of dollars on garbage programs that fail miserably. Sales tax increase of Dr Nutter did squart to address Philadelphia huge pension underfunded liabilities and the schools suckarooney worse than ever.. All we suburban dudes that earn a living see is crackheads shooting each other and city political characters getting pinched for bad governance. How do you sell that to the,rest of the state… ain’t happening

    • eldondre

      Actually struggling towns in lancaster county like Columbia would be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Ackerman is dead btw.

    • su2lly

      How does a “suburban dude” in Lancaster county pay extra sales tax in Philadelphia?

    • Hamiltonian

      Bensalem is a nice community? LOL

  • http://lewbryson.blogspot.com LewBryson

    Two ‘One-Term Tommy’ losers in a row? I smell a new political idiom for Pennsylvania!

  • ES

    Reminds me of Corzine, also from private sector. I had such high hopes for Wolf, but he has lost my confidence. He was elected on fixing the school funding problem with a shale tax. The Republicans offered that up to him but because he is beholden to Unions, he is squandering this opportunity. No one elected him on the basis of his refusal to open liquor sales to competition or refusal reform the out of control pension situation. He’s sacrificing the good of the many for the good of a few (mainly only state workers). Corbett was horrible. Wolf still has a chance if he comes to his senses and realizes that it was not a few thousand state workers who elected him, but many thousands of Pennsylvanians who care about education for our kids.

  • Tiredofjournos

    Wolf even lost 9 from his own party in the vote on his plan. The Republicans should re-introduce the stopgap to fund the genuinely necessary areas and then show how Wolf wants to pander to the State unions and the PFT and their ridiculously generous pension plans and seniority structures. Wait until Kenney gets in and you see what the PFT wants for its payback.Sell the liquor stores and add more charter schools.

  • http://www.fuckoff.com/ TaMèreSuceDesBitesEnEnfer

    I pay enough taxes already Tommy. Kindly take your tax increase and shove it up your a$$.

  • CreightonRabs

    No, there isn’t time.

    Wolf has proven to be a bigger j***off that Corzine was in Jersey. And we all know how that worked out for Corzine.

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    Wolf’s budget actually takes another $8.1 Billion out of our pockets,.
    The $8.1 Billion amounts to the largest tax hike in one year in the state’s history.
    Wolf wants to add income and sales tax while not reducing the school property tax.

    Wolf has proven to Property Tax Independence Act (SB/HB76) Naysayers
    that raising the state income tax [from 3.07 to 4.34%] and the state
    sales tax [from .06 to .07] can eliminate the school property tax. Wolf
    has proven it by stealing the idea from the SB/HB76 advoicactes and
    proposing to waste it on non-education spending.
    If you’re going to raise the income and sales tax, why not cut the homeless rate and build the economy with SB/HB76 ?

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    The Property Tax Independence Act (SB/HB76) raises the income tax on the
    state wide median income by about $13.60/week (or about $660./year) and
    adds a penny to state sales tax as well as what the governor calls
    modernizing the tax code to include some things not currently sales
    taxed. ……. And in trade totally eliminates the school property tax –
    that is for property owners in school
    districts with no long term debt. The current average long term debt
    sucks up about 10% of the school district’s annual budget. Some
    districts have no debt while other do. Districts with debt continue
    paying it until it’s gone without saddling debt-free district property
    owners with debt belonging to other districts. …….. The Property Tax
    Independence Act also restores actual local control by only allowing
    school boards to spend outside their budget with voter referendum
    approval. ………. Also, and probably most importantly, under the
    Property Tax Independence Act, never again can you lose your home for
    nonpayment of the school property tax because the board loses it’s
    authority to threaten you with homelessness.

  • DelcoDave821

    You could have at least mentioned that Governor Wolf HAS offered compromises on his budget plan (no increase in sales tax) and public pensions (introduction of 401k style plans for new hires). He rightly refuses to give in to Metcalfe and his Tea Party fanatics who hate unions in general and public unions in particular. Their plan is to destroy the pension system by making changes they know will not solve the fund’s problems and make changes impacting current employees which they know violate the PA constitution.
    Yes – I know you wanted to validate your predictions of the past, but could you at least acknowledge that Gov. Wolf has tried to work with the Republicans far more than they have tried to work with him?

    • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

      Wolf’s budget actually takes another $8.1 Billion out of our pockets,.
      The $8.1 Billion amounts to the largest tax hike in one year in the state’s history.
      Wolf wants to add income and sales tax while not reducing the school property tax.

    • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

      Compromise? That’s a new buzz word cooked up by DePasquale and Wolf.
      Republican and Democrat legislators, as well as the newly elected governor have a responsibility to NOT bankrupt Pennsylvanians with a record high tax increase.
      Republicans are on course to have approached the governor with six compromises that he’s turned away. One of switch was a stop gap proposal to continue funding public schools while they work on the budget. The governor said, NO and then blamed the legislature, including his own party.
      This governor received more than twice as much in campaign contributions from the teacher’s union, as his predecessor did during his first campaign. Obviously, this pay off has directed his apprehension to end union’s raid on public funds.

    • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

      Wolf may now have appeared to introduce 401k’s as the way forward for new hires but, until a month ago, he was opposed, according to his flunky, Depasquale.
      During their campaigns, as well as sitting legislators, in 2014, Democrats, all scripted by the party committee, were telling the public that any raise in the state income or sales tax would hurt the poor, cause businesses to leave the state, result in job loses, and cause the sky to fall. The teacher’s union has contributed more money to Democratic campaigns than any other contributor.

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    How can raising taxes by more than 30% on the backs of so-called Working
    Pennsylvanians as well as sales tax on the so-called Poor who some
    legislators believe shop for luxury items resolve anything ?

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    “I think there’s a dawning awareness that I’m not going to cave on
    this,” Wolf told a Pittsburgh radio station . “I can’t cave on this.”

    Here’s the problem, though: Wolf hasn’t been asked to cave. He
    campaigned on a promise to restore education funding and to pay for it
    using a new tax on the Marcellus Shale.

    In August, Republicans
    offered a deal where they’d approve $400 million in new education
    funding and the taxes to pay for it — as long as Wolf signed off on a
    pension reform package for state employees he’d previously vetoed.

    All of this led to Governing magazine choosing this month to give Wolf a mixed rating for his governorship: “Observers say he could secure new education money using proceeds from a natural gas severance tax
    and an increase in the personal income tax, in exchange for such
    Republican priorities as a state employee pension overhaul and a green
    light for grocery stores to sell beer and wine,” the magazine says. “But
    agreeing to such a deal would draw fire from public employee and other
    labor unions, and so far Wolf hasn’t pulled the trigger.”

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    How did previous governor, Corbett and his Republicans manage to enact tax-neutral budgets year after year? Corbett refused to sign tax increase budgets.
    The so-called education cuts Democrats have accused Corbett of was $660 Million in federal stimulus funds, granted by President Obama and the U. S. Congress. The money was cut up and shared among Pa’s 500 public school districts, meant to help districts get refinancing of their long term construction debt or purchasing of solar panels, a swimming pool, new carpeting for the offices, or whatever else they wanted to piss the gift off on. But, instead, many districts hired more teachers, lowering the student to teacher ratio, thinking this would improve grade scores.
    When the federal aid dried up, the void created a shortfall in their annual budgets.

    • su2lly

      He raised fee’s and used false incoming revenue figures to get it done. If he’s as perfet as you say he was, we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in now and he still would be governor. Put keep pounding out those talking points.

  • PropertyTaxIndependenceAct

    The average student – teacher ratio in Pennsylvania’s K-12 public schools is 15 students per teacher. In Gov Wolf’s York City school district it’s 9 to 1.
    During the past twenty years, grade point averages have not significantly improved across the state despite these extremely low ratios.
    But, during the past twenty years, more than 200,000 Pennsylvania families have become #homeless due to their inability to afford the ever increasing school property tax.

  • Grin

    Dysfunctional officials are to be expected since Pennsylvania hasn’t had real elections for a long time.
    Actual counts of real ballots were replaced by DREs of undisclosed design, build, programming, operation, reliability, or security, known to lose, switch, and fake “votes”.

    The problem also exists in 42 other states.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/study-electronic-voting-machines-out-of-date-43-states-213632

  • Am

    Maybe wolf can fund some of the schools and fill in gaps. With the high saleries he is giving these deputy directors and chief of staffs. Who worked on his campaign to elect him. Putting him in office. They should owe us taxpayers a refund. We pay there rediculous saleries. Some making over 175,000 and have a bs.