Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf touts bipartisanship and economy to business community
HARRISBURG – Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s election-year message to members of the business community revolved Monday around Pennsylvania’s improved job growth and his accomplishments with a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Speaking at a Harrisburg Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Wolf also reminded the crowd regularly about his business background – he ran his family-owned cabinet and furniture distributor for three decades – and he touted the $50 million he’s seeking in the budget to expand science and computer instruction in high schools and job training programs.
Wolf’s competition for business support in November’s election will be Republican Scott Wagner, a brash former state senator who started the $75 million waste hauler Penn Waste Inc. and has run on a business-friendly platform of cutting taxes and regulation.
Wolf told the crowd of more than 200 that he had approached working with the Republican-controlled Legislature like it was a Venn diagram, noting various degrees of disagreement.
“There’s a big overlap here, too, and why don’t we focus our energies and our time on that area of the Venn diagram, the overlap, and that’s what we’ve done and we’ve really gotten a lot of things done,” Wolf said.
He singled out school funding, medical marijuana and opioid-abuse legislation that he has signed since becoming governor in 2015. Wolf has, at times, blunted criticism from top Republican lawmakers by striking compromises on things like pension and liquor legislation.
He also has waged two long budget battles with House Republicans and rejected various bills backed by the business community, such as one in April to impose a prescription drug formulary on Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation program.
Perhaps Wolf’s highest-profile fight with business groups is his campaign to impose a severance tax on Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry. It is politically popular, but Wolf did not mention it to the chamber crowd and acknowledged later that he is unlikely to secure it in his first term amid resistance by House Republican leaders.
Wagner has criticized Wolf’s handling of the economy by pointing to the state’s April unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, which hovered above the national rate of 3.8 percent in May by the biggest gap since the 1980s. It was tied with Michigan for 43rd while every Pennsylvania neighbor except West Virginia has an unemployment rate lower than Pennsylvania’s, although that gap is a half-percentage point or less.
Still, Wolf points to Pennsylvania’s 12-month payroll-growth rate, which is in the top of half of states. For the last 40 years, Pennsylvania’s job growth ranks among the bottom 10 states, and Wolf said Monday that he can take credit for its recent improvement.
Part of accelerating job growth is making business people feel confident enough to invest in the state, Wolf said. Another important element is making the state attractive by improving its schools and amenities, Wolf said.
“A good global economy does help everybody, but it also is up to us to say, ‘where are we going to be within all those states?’” Wolf told reporters later. “We were at the bottom. We’re now in the top half and getting better. Yeah, I’ll take credit for that.”