ThinkFest Recap: Tom Wolf Says a Budget Deal Is “Almost There”

The governor said he understands the pain the budget impasse has caused in communities.

Tom Wolf at ThinkFest on November 6th.

Tom Wolf at ThinkFest on November 6th.

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Days after the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to borrow $250 million to stay open as the state’s budget impasse drags on, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said on Friday that he and the GOP-controlled legislature are “close” to hammering out a deal.

“I think we’re almost there,” he said. “I think we’re very, very close.”

But he didn’t explain why he feels so optimistic.

In an interview with 6ABC’s Tamala Edwards, Wolf said he has empathy for school districts and government-funded organizations that have been reeling from the fiscal crisis. “I understand the pain that has come because of this budget impasse,” he said. But Wolf said he believes that it is more important to wait to pass a “real” budget that includes significant education funding and does not rely on one-time fixes, than approve a plan ASAP.

“It is not in [schools’] best interest to have something that feels good for a couple weeks and then goes back to underfunding,” he said, “where you can’t even afford toilet paper.”

Wolf also rejected the idea that Pennsylvania should not increase taxes — or that doing so is politically unfeasible.

“We need to have a balanced budget” and “make sure we are willing to pay for the things that we want to consume,” he said. “That’s what we haven’t been doing for the last number of years.”

Other highlights:

Wolf on the future of schools: “I think the goal should be affordable, broadly accessible and relevant education, and the format that we’re going to deliver on that promise is going to change.”

Wolf on so-called “parental responsibility” in schools: Wolf said parent involvement in schools is “obviously” important. “But sometimes kids don’t have that. There are a lot of homeless children,” he noted. He said that “we have to get beyond the blame” and “recognize that, whoever’s to blame, that’s a problem we share.”

“Let’s figure out how we’re going to get that child … a good education,” he said.

Wolf on the impact of income inequality on economic development: Wolf said there are huge numbers of people who would start businesses if it weren’t for obstacles arising from income inequality. “But we don’t get that because we don’t have something like national health insurance. And that’s the kind of thing that we need to think about as a practical matter, not as a feel-good thing, not as a bleeding-heart liberal,” said Wolf. “We need to make sure that we have a system where the rules are seen as fair enough that, ‘I want to get into this game.'”

Wolf on Pennsylvania: So, Wolf said this at one point: “This place was founded by William Penn, not just some chump.”