By Dick Miller
WE.CONNECT.DOTS: Four years ago, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett was gearing up for re-election in 2014 with national media proclaiming he was the most vulnerable governor in America.
The Democrats had four heavy hitters battling in the primary for the right to dethrone Corbett. Tom Wolf bought the primary with his own money and coasted to a victory in the fall.
You can always tell when one side has a chance of ousting the other from the Governor’s mansion. In 2006 Republicans put up football star Lynn Swann opposite Ed Rendell. In 1998 Democrats wasted state rep Ivan Itkin in a weak attempt to deny Tom Ridge a second term.
Wolf says he will attempt to win a second four-year term in 2018, but, again, like 2014, the “out” party smells victory.
Two heavyweights appear to be front runners for the GOP nomination. State Sen. Scott Wagner, like Wolf, a self-made business success from York County, will likely spend his own money if his primary effort has significant competition.
House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai has lusted for the job for many years. Not as smooth and not as rich as Wagner, he is more connected through long years of doing favors from his legislative posts.
Interestingly, both candidates will vie for the designation “Trump light.” Wagner is more in the spirit of the president while Turzai is likely to be more loyal to the party line.
Both will run on the platform plank that Republicans have been successful in denying Wolf’s efforts to raise sales and/or income taxes.
Momentum favors Republicans. The rich control our government at both the national and state level. Trust in government sinks lower, favoring those (Republicans) who preach less governance.
Democrats, in some cases, aid Republicans in enriching the rich. Their core legislative membership (a distinct minority) worries more about their own re-elections than increasing their numbers.
After one of the worst election years for their party in history, state Dems mirrored their counterparts in Washington in making no changes in leadership.
Wolf justifies his proposals to increase taxes as the only solution to right the inequities of public education in the state. The tiny bit of reform he has brought to public education will require 25 years to equalize school funding.
This year Wolf did not even propose a major tax increase. With both House and Senate in Republican hands, he says any attempt would be futile.
Apparently in 27 months as Governor, he has failed to find any Republican lawmakers who would put state ahead of party. In the budget fight that consumed his first year in office there were times Wolf could not even get solid support from Democrat lawmakers for his proposals.
To plug significant deficits that will be carried over from this budget, Wolf has taken to proposing “gimmicks” comparable to what Republicans were doing when Corbett was in the executive mansion.
For example, Wolf proposes selling the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena to a private developer and then lease it back for state functions. To reduce government employment, Wolf proposes to offer parachutes to the higher paid which will push pension funds deeper in debt.
With a straight face, Wolf claims to meet Republican demands to avoid major tax hikes, nor borrow nor defer expenditures.
What appears to be further game for both parties is additional gambling that would be taxed by the state. Slot machines could be available to every bar and restaurant.
Another proposal favored by Republicans makes 2,000 licenses for private liquor sales as a way of boosting income. Less the GOP be blamed for increasing alcohol problems, they claim the expanded sales base would keep drinkers from journeying to adjoining states to make purchases at more convenient times.
Democrats continue to oppose such liquor expansions which would reduce the number of well-paying unionized state jobs.
Bottom Line: The state’s problems continue to be insurmountable.
The financial crisis enveloping the state’s two major pension funds may not be solved until lawmakers can figure out how to keep getting their generous retirement benefits.
The solution is the worst kept secret in Harrisburg. State lawmakers must replace defined benefit plans with less lucrative 401(k) programs for new employees and teachers.
The problem is “How do they exempt themselves?” Courts could rule when a legislator gets re-elected, the event will constitute a new term of employment.
In the meantime, the pension deficit grows to nearly twice the size of state government’s annual budget.
After public education and pensions, but not too far behind, looms higher education. New reports reveal there are many empty seats in Pennsylvania college classrooms. Tuition and fees are too high when compared with adjoining states.
Finally, Wolf must restructure an inept political organization. Last year Trump not only defeated Hillary in Pennsylvania, but Dems also blew the U.S. Senate race.
In addition, Republicans further increased their margins in both the state House and Senate. Democrats hold an 800,000-voter registration lead in the state. This counts for naught.