As Pa. Budget Turns: Where’s Tom Wolf?

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee ought to explain how he'd handle this mess.


So where is Tom Wolf, anyway?

The Democratic nominee for governor has been pretty quiet in recent days as Gov. Tom Corbett and the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature tried to wrestle the state budget into submission through a mix of bad priorities and morally dubious tactics.

Wolf — probably wisely — has stayed on the sidelines: His campaign’s last press release was June 19; its last blog post on June 27. When your already mortally wounded opponent insists on shooting himself in the foot publicly (does anybody think Corbett comes out of this process looking good?) it’s wise to shut up and let him reload.

Politically, at least, it’s wise. But Pennsylvanians shouldn’t let him get away with it. They should be demanding Wolf offer his ideas about how to put this year’s state budget together in the face of a $1.5 billion deficit.

Why? Two reasons come to mind.

• Once you’re actually governor, you don’t get to hide from the budget process — you own it. And you have to make real choices. Pennsylvania voters already know Corbett’s apparent budget priorities differ from theirs: Polls show they’d impose a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale and spend more money on education.

So it’s worth asking Wolf: How would you balance this budget? What would your priorities be? You can’t have everything you want, so what tradeoffs are you willing to make? Voters and reporters should be probing the candidate for answers.

• As things are now, Wolf stands to become governor pretty much because most of the state hates Tom Corbett. But here’s something to take seriously: The last man to become Pennsylvania governor chiefly because everybody was tired of his predecessor was … Tom Corbett. In 2010.

It’s easy to forget now, because that campaign was so forgettable. (Do you even remember Corbett’s opponent in that campaign? I bet not.)  Its chief characteristic was that there was a fair amount of Ed Rendell fatigue in the land at that point. A bland Republican like Corbett was as close a thing to a sure bet as was available in that election.

Only: Look what it got us.

Wolf hasn’t been completely silent on the budget. His campaign last week published a blog post detailing how the budget deficit was the result of Corbett’s failures. And that’s fine as far as it goes. But many of Wolf’s own agenda items — including a proposed 5 percent tax on the Marcellus Shale — pre-date the known existence of the state budget deficit. The agenda doesn’t appear to have budged all that much in response.

Listen: Wolf’s a Democrat, and it doesn’t appear that he’s all that unconventional. For the most part, I expect to prefer him to Corbett as a governor. But he’s sliding through this campaign with a bare minimum of resistance. His fortune helped him seal the primary before his opponents really got started with their efforts; now he may be hoping that Corbett’s deep unpopularity has the same effect here, now, before we get to November.

Luckily, Wolf can’t (and probably wouldn’t) hide forever: Between now and the election, he’ll be spending a lot of time kissing babies, meeting voters, appearing in debates and reminding people he’s not Tom Corbett. Be we already know that about him. Now’s our chance to find out who he is. The state budget is a great starting point for getting answers.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.