3 Specific Questions for Tom Wolf

There's still a lot we don't know about the the man who will likely be our next governor. We're running out of time to find out.

York businessman Tom Wolf during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014  in Philadelphia.  AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

York businessman Tom Wolf during a Democratic gubernatorial candidates forum Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014 in Philadelphia. AP Photo | Jacqueline Larma

This isn’t an election. It’s a coronation.

Unless something very game-changing happens these last few weeks before the November 4th election, Tom Wolf will beat Tom Corbett for governor. It won’t be close. And really, that’s as it should be — not because Democrats are awesome and Republicans are stinky, but because Corbett has plainly governed Pennsylvania for four years in a manner that almost no one (including most Republicans, according to polls) finds all that pleasing.

But let’s not pretend that Tom Wolf has somehow earned the governorship. He made one very smart tactical move early: He spent lots of money on advertising before his chief rivals for the Democratic nomination could get out of the gate — and has never held a less-than-surmountable lead over both his primary and general election opponents since then. It would be unfair to say his campaign is on cruise control — it’s clearly not — but it’s also not really required to break a sweat most days.

Wolf went too far this week, though, in a moment noticed by John Micek at the Patriot-News:

Asked whether he will have to get more specific about the proposals, Wolf said his push during the debate was to highlight Corbett’s shortcomings in job creation, fiscal management and education funding and that those are the areas that should be talked about.

“I think the specificity is on his (Corbett’s) shoulders,” Wolf said.

Micek’s response: “Sorry … run that past us again? It’s up to the other guy to discuss the specifics of his plans — but you get a pass on yours?”

Exactly. So. In the interest of producing a bit more specificity before the election, here are three questions for Wolf:

BUDGETING: Pennsylvania Democrats have criticized Gov. Corbett for borrowing from the state treasury this month to pay the state’s bills — and suggested the problem is exacerbated by a series of increasingly less-useful budget gimmicks (including too-high revenue estimates) designed to produce balanced budgets without requiring hard decisions of state politicians.

“You can’t pull those rabbits out of a hat over and over again,” said a spokesman for the state treasury.

You’ve already proposed a tax on natural gas production to help pay for schools. Is that money enough to cover the state’s budget weaknesses going forward? If not, what are your priorities? Will you be more inclined to raise taxes, cut programs, or some combination? Please be specific about which taxes and programs would be affected.

PENSIONS: Gov. Corbett has been very vocal that public employee pensions threaten future state budgets. You apparently agree with him, saying at the debate: “What we need to do is pay that bill we didn’t pay for the past 10 years. If we find a way to do that that doesn’t hurt the taxpayers we are going to have a solution to this problem.”

Your campaign has spoken of pension obligation bonds as a possible solution. But one study suggests that taking out $9 million in bonds would stick the state with $10.4 billion in interest payments over 30 years. And the bonds are described as “risky” — playing a part in the bankruptcy of two California cities. Why would it be worth exposing Pennsylvania taxpayers to that risk?

SCHOOL TAXES: There’s a growing sentiment across much of the state that property taxes — as a local means of funding schools — have become much too burdensome: There are proposals afoot to eliminate the property tax as a tool for local districts, and let them rely on income and sales taxes instead.

Would your proposal to support schools with a fracking tax offer any property tax relief? Or would income and sales taxes still be needed? If the latter, do you have any method in mind for protecting the poorer taxpayers who would face a greater burden under those kinds of revenue gathering?

Here’s the crazy thing: I like Tom Wolf. I fully expect to think he’s a better governor than Corbett. I’m just a fan of democratic accountability too, is all.

Back during the primary election, when Wolf’s coasting strategy was already apparent, I wrote of him: “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.” Nearly three months later, we’re running out of time.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.