OPED Wolf: I will fight for state residents
For years, Harrisburg has defended the status quo, and too often, special interests and the well-connected are put before Pennsylvania families and the middle class. For years, massive state budget cuts devastated communities — slashing funding to schools, job training programs, and fighting the drug addiction epidemic. All the while, big corporations and Harrisburg insiders did just fine.
I’ve traveled to every corner of Pennsylvania to listen to you and your neighbors about how state government can get back on track and make real progress on the issues facing our communities. And I have heard your voice loud and clear: we need to reform state government, make schools better for our kids, and create good-paying jobs that support our families.
Despite the opposing party’s huge majorities in the State House and State Senate, my administration has been able to begin reforming the way Harrisburg and state government works.
By not backing down when our kids’ futures are at stake, I’ve secured an additional $640 million in funding for education to restore the cuts made in 2011-12 and implemented a fair funding formula to make sure all schools are getting their fair share. We’re finally investing in our kids instead of trying to balance budgets on their backs.
We’re all tired of Harrisburg ignoring the working and middle class — which is why I’ve fought to increase wages and make investments in programs that will help strengthen our families. I am also working with the private sector to turn Pennsylvania's economy around and created and retained nearly 200,000 jobs last year. Across Pennsylvania, we’re seeing real growth — Shell’s cracker plant in Western Pennsylvania, the expansion of Philadelphia’s port, and Amazon’s growth of 5,000 jobs statewide are just a few examples.
I know that many people are still hurting, which is why we must do everything we can to ensure that Pennsylvanians who work hard are treated fairly and can get ahead. Our commonwealth can and will address this by competing with other states and countries to grow our economy. This is what I did when I ran my private business in York — providing middle class wages and sharing profits with my employees while also competing and winning against companies from China.
Our communities also can’t grow and prosper if we don’t address issues that are tearing working families apart. The health of our communities is critically important — that’s why I’ve made sure more people can get access to health care and drug treatment, and that we’re fixing our criminal justice system to reduce crime — not create more.
In two years, I’ve expanded health care access for nearly 700,000 Pennsylvanians, secured funding for addiction treatment, and implemented several pieces of legislation to fight the opioid and heroin crisis.
Despite many challenges, we’ve made progress, and proven that Republicans and Democrats can work together. Just this year, we’ve legalized medical marijuana and ride-sharing across Pennsylvania. We’ve reformed our liquor system for the first time since Prohibition, provided unemployment insurance to nearly 45,000 Pennsylvanians who are looking for work, and enacted new protections to ensure our drinking water and air are safe.
For many years, Harrisburg governed from budget crisis to budget crisis — using an unbalanced approach that’s failed to address our fiscal problems and massive debt. I am also working with both parties to change this practice, while also optimizing government to improve operations and customer service while saving hundreds of millions of dollars for taxpayers.
I know there is still much more to do — we need to make sure taxpayers get what they pay for and can trust state government to put them before special interests. While my administration worked to curb special interest influence by implementing a gift ban and ending pay-to-play, no-bid contracts for big firms, I’ve also proposed comprehensive ethics reform for all of state government to comprehensively tackle this issue.
Change is hard to achieve, and only happens when we put partisanship aside for the greater good of our commonwealth. But progress can be made if we come together and put working and middle class families first.
Pennsylvanians can count on me to fight for them and work to bring good-paying jobs here, while also reforming the way state government works. These values will continue to guide me every day, no matter how big the challenges are that we face.
— Tom Wolf is governor of Pennsylvania.