Wolf’s budget proposal brings out the silly from both sides

And…York area senator trash talks our senators, again

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

TimesPoliticsUnusualIt was a bit frosty in Harrisburg this week — and I don’t just mean the “my gosh will this awful winter ever end” kind of frosty, but a less than warm reception to Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget proposal and, because it is the time for giving (at least to political columnists), more Republican on Republican violence, this time targeting two of Chester County’s state Senators.

First, not to shock anyone, but Gov. Wolf would like to raise the income and sales tax to help close a budget gap and better fund education. His budget would also cut business taxes in half and finally do away with the stock and franchise tax, which earned a few muted cheers from the right.

Sure, he hinted that this might be his plan all last year while running for governor (and yes, in fairness, it did seem a bit like something out of former Gov. Ed Rendell’s playbook), but the state’s GOP responded in typical Rumpelstiltskin fashion, stomping, fuming and basically going off on the rookie governor.

Not to pick on him, but Chester County’s GOP Chair Val DiGiorgio’s official statement on the budget was pretty much in the sweet spot of state-wide Republican response:

“This morning Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his massive $33.8 billion dollar budget – a plan that is bad for our economy and the residents of Chester County,” DiGiorgio said in a statement. “While I applaud the Governor for agreeing with the Republican Party’s long-standing goal to reduce corporate taxes and make Pennsylvania more economically competitive, the rest of his budget is a return to the failed policies of the left – higher taxes and massive increases in government spending.”

This might not be the best tactical play by the state’s Republicans — especially after four years of the equally “failed policies of the right” that have left Pennsylvania staggering economically while neighboring states are faring better.

While Wolf can’t anything done without the buy in of some GOP members of the legislature, it is too easy for him to point out that the current financial mess that is Pennsylvania comes on the heels of four years of Republicans running the legislature and the governor’s mansion. The pension mess? Largely a GOP-caused problem, too (Gov. Tom Ridge and the GOP-majority legislature passed the bills that crashed the pension funds into a fiscal iceberg, back in 2001).

Wolf can, and is beginning to, say “fine, don’t like my plan? Come up with a better one on your own. Oh, wait that was the last four years, which is why I got elected in the first place.” He basically did so on Friday though spokespeople — after state GOP senators (see below to see why it’s evident they’re not the most astute group around) sent out letters to school districts warning them not to expect anything like the state funding increases Wolf is proposing:

“Unfortunately, the Republican leadership is just saying no to challenging the status quo by putting forth the same old Harrisburg obstruction instead of real ideas to help Pennsylvania’s struggling public schools,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said. “Gov. Wolf has proposed a bold and expansive plan to reinvest in our schools and our economic future. The Governor called for robust debate and collaboration in his budget address.  This is the opposite of that. This is a political stunt.”

Aside from being poor politics — the GOP letter was, well, kind of dumb. There’s not a single school district, superintendent or board of education member anywhere in this state who trusts anything the legislature or the governor says. Not. One. Word. Ever.

In fact, some of the districts, seeing the likely prospect of a lengthy stalemate will be budgeting for as little state aid as possible, assuming, with good reason that our legislature and governor will fight like three-year-olds and continue 20-plus years of both parties putting politics over the welfare of the state and its citizens.

So while the budget and its responses signal that there will be months of pointless posturing instead of real negotiation, we can only hope that sanity will start to creep in and both sides will need to realize that compromise must happen.

Higher taxes have to happen — I argue with the “Pennsylvania has a spending problem” argument. With 70% of the budget taken up by welfare and corrections, what’s going to get cut? While for years there have been claims of waste and fraud in the Welfare system — no substantial amount has ever been identified. Had it been, no elected official of either party would be foolish enough not to do something about it, right?

So, in basic terms, the budget is broken and has been for a decade — a nasty fact that those left-wing liberals at bond rating agencies keep pointing out. Pennsylvania doesn’t bring in enough tax money to fund its basic needs: public safety, roads and education. All of the sloganeering in the world doesn’t change that fact.

How to fix that in a fair way that doesn’t single out any one group and provide a stable environment for business and industry to grow should be the focus of both parties. Wolf needs to give in on liquor privatization — this “modernization” stuff ain’t going to cut it — and be willing to show some flexibility on pension reform. The GOP has to go for some tax hikes and a better, less real estate dependent method to fund schools.

Instead, we’re mostly getting the same old, same old — punctuated by a flurry of press releases (many of them poorly written by 20-somethings who seem to have learned all of their politics from “House of Cards”) denouncing the other side and proclaiming some sort of apocalyptic outcome if the other side gets their way.

How to fix it? Since most legislators in both parties are largely impervious to losing their seats — if they do a lousy job, thanks to impressively gerrymandered districts, I’m betting most don’t feel particularly worried about angering the electorate. Until we start to election results that shock — Republicans defeating corrupt clubhouse politicians in Philadelphia and Democrats beating smug suburban GOP legislators — there’s no incentive for these folks to change their ways.

Long term — we need a better system for redistricting, but I’m not holding my breath on that.


* * *


State Sen. Scott Wagner, apparently chair of the “Arrogance of Extremism” wing of the GOP trash talked (literally, as Wagner is a tough-talking trash mogul) fellow state senators Dominic Pileggi and John Rafferty — both of whom represent large swaths of Chester County.

Wagner — who represents the 28th District in York County (one of those place in Pennsylvania that gets a whole lot more back in services than it pays in taxes — the exact opposite of Chester County) went OFF on Rafferty when he didn’t support Wagner’s white whale “Paycheck Protection” bill. Wagner is obsessive about attacking unions — like off the hook obsessed — and basically lost it last week when Rafferty and Pileggi, both of whom represent areas with a lot of union members, declined to commit political suicide just to make Wagner happy. Especially when Gov. Wolf would have vetoed it, anyway, had it passed.

“In the ten months I have served in the PA State Senate I have found Senator Rafferty to be the most disingenuous member of the Republican Caucus,” Wagner wrote in an email to his constituents. No word on how big a black crayon Wagner used to do so.

As Wagner aided and abetted Pileggi’s downfall as Majority Leader it’s no shock that he has issues with the soon to be departing (Pileggi is running for Court of Common Pleas in Delaware County — and nothing short of a comet hitting Media will derail his election) senator.

“Since losing his leadership post he is a bitter person and will do anything to undermine the PA State Senate’s new leadership,” Wagner said of Pileggi, as if there was a way for anyone to do a better job of undermining the state Senate’s leadership than, well, the state Senate’s leadership.

Words cannot depict how spectacularly foolish Wagner’s comments are — especially as it appears that Rafferty will be a strong contender to easily defeat current incumbent Kathleen Kane for Attorney General.

But if this is what goes for leadership in the state legislature these days, things aren’t going to get better in Pennsylvania, they’re going to get worse.

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