Three Strikes and You’re Out, Governor Wolf
If you’re a baseball fan like I am, you love a close game. Excitement reaches a fever pitch when the home team is losing in the bottom of the 9th with two outs and two strikes. The batter has one last chance to swing for the fences or strike out and concede defeat.
The pressure is on and the crowd is on the edge of their seats.
That was the state budget scenario this week when the House voted on Governor Wolf’s third tax increase plan. It had been nearly 100 days since the budget deadline, and Wolf had proposed three separate tax increase plans—each of which would be the largest tax hike in the nation.
But when Wolf stepped up to the plate on Wednesday and choked up for one more swing, he whiffed—strike three was called on his tax plans.
Incredibly, rather than concede defeat and focus on compromise, the governor went up to the mic and declared victory.
“I think it was a good day,” Wolf touted. “This was a show and I think we did very well.” He then refused to take any tax options—rejected even by members of his own party—off the table.
In what world is a third straight defeat considered a win?
It’s true, the governor has tried three times to force higher taxes on all Pennsylvanians. First, he aimed for a staggering $1,400-per-family-of-four tax hike—a plan so outrageous he couldn’t even get one vote from Democrats. Then, he attempted a $1,000 increase, which didn’t even make it to the plate for a vote. On Wednesday, he tried for a $750 rise—only to have his plan go down in flames with just 37 percent of House members supporting it and losing nine members of his own party.
The message is clear if only Wolf will listen: Pennsylvanians have no appetite for broad-based tax increases that would particularly impact low- and middle-class earners. Our state already bears the 10th-highest state and local tax burden in the nation at $4,374 per person. Insisting that families pay hundreds of dollars more displays a tragic lack of leadership.
Ironically, while Wolf has spent the past 100 days—and counting—playing “lone wolf” politics, he’s sacrificed opportunities to address one of the key issues he pledged to tackle in his first 100 days: education funding.
Indeed, the budget passed by the state Legislature in June—and summarily vetoed by the governor—included record-high spending for basic education. And as budget gridlock dragged from one month into two—then three—and schools faced funding uncertainty that could shutter their doors, Wolf again vetoed stop-gap legislation that would have retroactively funded schools and social service organizations.
This begs the question: Is school funding truly a priority? Or is Wolf’s true aim higher taxes under the guise of education?
For more than 100 days now, Wolf has played budget blockade, giving lip service to education spending but deliberately blocking funding from flowing to schools. Meanwhile, he’s continued his “Schools that Teach” tour—better named “Tax Hike or Bust” tour—bellowing “It’s their fault!” against the backdrop of the very schools he is holding hostage.
Consider that Pennsylvanian’s school districts have already borrowed more than $346 million as a result of the budget gridlock. And this borrowing comes at an interest cost of up to $11.2 million.
Yet, when Wolf had the chance to deliver relief via the stopgap on day 91 of the impasse, he refused. On day 94, he traveled to yet another elementary school to try to convince Pennsylvanians that school funding is his priority.
Hardly persuasive. And even less so given Wolf’s post-veto assertion that he “wants a fight.”
Meanwhile schools borrow money under threat of shutdown. Human services organizations operate in crisis mode. And Pennsylvania families remain in limbo, unsure whether they’ll be asked to send Harrisburg even more of their hard-earned money.
A “fight” should be a governor’s last priority.
With the first 100 days of gridlock now in the history books, Governor Wolf must stop living in denial, end his tax-hike obsession, and come to the table to fund Pennsylvanians’ priorities.
# # #
Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.