On Inauguration Day, Campaign Rhetoric Meets Governing Reality

For Immediate Release
Commonwealth Foundation
Contact: 717-671-1901

On Inauguration Day, Campaign Rhetoric Meets Governing Reality

“Math” will challenge Gov. Wolf’s unaffordable campaign promises
and force him to tackle pensions, privatization, labor reform

January 20, 2015, HARRISBURG, PA.—Matthew J. Brouillette, president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, issued the following statement in response to Tom Wolf becoming the 47th Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

We congratulate Tom Wolf on becoming Governor of Pennsylvania. Today is the day where campaign rhetoric meets governing reality—simple math will challenge the unaffordable promises that Governor Wolf made on the campaign trail. Gov. Wolf will face the reality that you can grow the government or you can grow the economy, but you can’t grow both.

Higher taxes, increased spending, and bigger government will not improve the lives of middle- and low-income families in Pennsylvania. If Pennsylvania becomes the next state to tax and spend itself to prosperity, it will also be the first.

We applaud Gov. Wolf for making education a cornerstone of his policy agenda. But simply spending more money will not improve educational outcomes—especially in our city school districts.  Today, Pennsylvania taxpayers already spend more than $14,000 per student on education, which is nearly $3,000 more than the national average and higher than 39 other states.

What our children need from the adults in Harrisburg is smarter funding, not just more funding.

Gov. Wolf must balance a state budget that already spends more tax money than the state is bringing in, even as Pennsylvania taxpayers already shoulder the 10th highest tax burden in the nation. Our job creators—those providing economic opportunities to middle and low income citizens—labor under the 2nd highest corporate income tax in the industrialized world. It is workers and consumers who ultimately pay these taxes in the form of lost wages and benefits and higher costs for goods and services.

So when Gov. Wolf talks about raising taxes on the natural gas industry, what he’s really proposing is cutting wages and benefits for middle class families and raising their home heating and cooling bills—harming rather than helping all Pennsylvanians.

And while we commend Gov. Wolf for his efforts to eliminate conflicts of interest in his administration with gift bans and ethics pledges, the governor must recognize his own conflict of interest.

Over the next five months, Gov. Wolf will negotiate the salaries, health insurance, and other workplace benefits with his largest and wealthiest campaign contributors: the government employee unions. During his campaign, Mr. Wolf received more than $3.4 million from eleven government unions. AFSCME, UFCW, SEIU, and PSEA gave more than $2.36 million in direct PAC campaign contributions to Mr. Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign and gave millions more in indirect SuperPAC expenditures. Most, if not all, of this money was collected for these unions using taxpayers’ resources.

Is it possible for the taxpayers to be fairly represented at the bargaining table when Mr. Wolf negotiates with the special interests who just gave him millions of dollars to win an election—many of whom are sponsoring his inaugural celebration? 

Gov. Wolf can demonstrate his independence from these campaign contributors by refusing to collect their political money with taxpayer-funded payroll services. Then, and only then, will the taxpayers be assured that his administration is truly ethical, transparent, and accountable.

Of course, ending this conflict of interest at all levels of government should be a priority for Gov. Wolf and the General Assembly. Passing paycheck protection—proposed this legislative session under the name Mary’s Law—would end this flagrant conflict of interest for all elected officials.

As Gov. Wolf begins to transition from campaign rhetoric to governing reality, the simple math of the public pension crisis will force him to tackle the issue. Ignoring a $50 billion problem will not make it go away.

One of the ways Gov. Wolf could start to pay down the state’s unfunded pension liabilities is to end the commonwealth’s monopoly on wine and spirits. By returning the booze business to the private sector, hundreds of millions of dollars could be used to pay down our state’s pension debt and avoid raising school property taxes.

The Commonwealth Foundation looks forward to working with Gov. Wolf on real solutions to Pennsylvania’s economic problems. Pursuing the bad economic policies of higher taxes, more spending, and bigger government will not produce a “fresh start” in Pennsylvania but, instead, will bring our commonwealth to a “grinding halt.”

Matthew J. Brouillette and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact us at 717-671-1901 to schedule an interview.

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For more information, please contact our director of media relations for the Commonwealth Foundation at 717-671-1901 or [email protected].

The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.