Will Wolf build house of straw or bricks?
The Nov. 6 Chronicle’s front-page story, with the clever headline “Wolf Blows Down GOP,” accurately characterizes the decisive defeat of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, the only incumbent GOP state leader to lose in what was otherwise an election that evidenced a national Republican tide.
It will be interesting to see whether the Tom Wolf/Mike Stack ticket retains its popularity and goodwill four years from now after its hands have been dirtied by tough decisions and proposals that are all but certain to bring pain to a large swath of state residents.
For starters, Wolf promises to increase spending on basic education by $1 billion. He also pledges to work toward increasing the state’s share of that expenditure from its current level of about 33 percent to 50 percent, a task that would cost billions more. His first budget will have to address a structural deficit of as much as $2 billion due to budget projections for the current year that are likely to have been wildly optimistic. He faces a metastasizing $50 billion pension fund shortfall whose seriousness I am not sure he recognizes. Even many Democrats and union leaders recognize that the current system is not sustainable.
If Wolf’s push for a 5 percent Marcellus Shale gas extraction tax passes a Republican General Assembly, which is highly questionable, he will have, optimistically, $1 billion in additional revenue. His sketchy plan to change the structure of the state income tax to snag greater revenue from high-income individuals is unlikely to pass, but if it did, it would be certain to be subjected to lengthy constitutional challenge in state courts, given the requirement that state taxation be uniform.
I believe that history will ultimately be kinder to Tom Corbett, a man who was not adept at playing Harrisburg politics, but who is basically a good and decent person who was treated with unjustified contempt by many of his foes. He failed to bring about privatization of alcohol sales and pension reform due to a lack of cooperation from the members of his own party, but he accomplished two major initiatives, including passage of omnibus transportation, which was shamefully voted against by many Democrats, and significant reform of an unemployment compensation system, which had been hemorrhaging red ink.
If the governor-elect is not able to work magic on the General Assembly and the people of Pennsylvania, he may also find himself a “one-term Tom” in 2019.
Upper St. Clair