By Charlie Gerow
Governor Wolf’s second budget message was delivered on Feb 9. It might as well have been delivered on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. It would have been apropos.
In stunningly harsh tones, the governor spent his time before the General Assembly lecturing them on process rather more than outlining his budget. He didn’t call them “stupid” as he has in the recent past, but he came close.
Veteran Capitol observers were shocked by the tone and approach of his address. It was coldly political, reiterating the attacks he ran throughout the fall.
This was supposed to be a “different type of governor.” His budget message was different, but not in the sense he intended. No one could remember a budget speech so littered with political attacks and kick-in-the-shins rhetoric.
Lost in the political hits were the details of the Wolf proposal. The governor took no time to describe or defend the 15 taxes on working Pennsylvanians he wants to impose or raise. You had to look for a separate budget document to get any details of what he was really asking for.
His proposed dramatic increases in the tax burden on Pennsylvania families are there to offset another proposed big ramp up in spending. The Wolf proposal would boost state spending by more than 10 percent. Meanwhile inflation is rising at less than 1 percent.
Pennsylvanians from all walks of life have already sent a clear message through their elected representatives that they cannot afford huge tax increases and massive additional government spending at a time when they’re tightening their own belts.
That’s been the crux of the budget stalemate thus far. The governor certainly didn’t do anything to break the logjam when he spoke to the legislature.
In fact, he may have made things worse. The Democratic members of the General Assembly were muted in their approval. They had to know that the governor’s approach wasn’t helping to get things done. The Republicans were silent, although the governor’s rhetoric got so over the top that scattered boos were heard.
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman summarized things, “This retread budget proposal offers superficial changes to his sizable tax-and-spend plan that has already been soundly opposed by taxpayers. In asking for a $3.6 billion tax increase…the governor is doubling down on his failures to provide leadership on accomplishing s bipartisan budget agreement and is being disingenuous on the starting point for his ‘new’ proposal.”
Tom Wolf’s pedantic style only served to further inflame an already untenable situation. We’re not only no further down the road, we may be further behind. At this point it’s impossible to predict when things will change.
Gov. Wolf kept saying that “it’s about the math.” But the only numbers he seems able to master are additions to taxes and spending. That’s the problem.
Pennsylvania has been spending above its means for a long time. State government has grown far faster than the economy. That’s caused taxation that has made us less competitive with other states. As a result, jobs have been lost and economic growth stunted.
Sadly, the Wolf response is just “let’s spend some more.” Taxpayers, meanwhile, scratch their heads wondering why each time they’re asked to dig a little deeper into their pockets to pay for all of this, they’re almost immediately asked to do it again. Government never seems to have enough of their hard-earned money.
Tom Wolf was named the most liberal governor in America last year. Recently he added the title of “least popular governor in America” as his approval ratings dipped to the lowest level at this point in an administration since pollsters began measuring these things.
Maybe that’s why he feels compelled to go on the political attack at every opportunity. But it’s not working. Not for him, not for the process of governing, and certainly not for the people of Pennsylvania.
There’s got to be a better way.