EDITORIAL: With latest allegation, Scott Wagner takes page out of Donald Trump's playbook
It’s obvious by this time that Scott Wagner is positioning himself as the Donald Trump of Pennsylvania politics.
That point was driven home again last Thursday when Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor, accused Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf of proposing a policy that would result in deep and immediate funding cuts to certain school districts.
It was yet another charge straight out of Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip playbook — make an absurd accusation, with no basis in fact, in an effort to stir up the conservative base and confuse the general electorate.
Wagner likely figures that Trump made it work in Pennsylvania in 2016, so he’ll try it in 2018.
We can only hope that Pennsylvania voters will be a little smarter and a little more informed this time around.
Wagner, Wolf tangle over politics of funding public schools
Polar opposites: That’s because Wolf’s record on education is positively sterling when compared to Wagner’s rhetoric on the issue. The York County men couldn't be more different.
In 2014, Wolf came into office with a first-term goal of $2 billion in new education money. He’s been able to secure lawmakers’ approval for about half of that total. Given that Wolf is dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature that has opposed him nearly every step of the way, that’s a rather remarkable achievement.
It was also desperately needed after Tom Corbett’s previous Republican administration slashed school funding.
Wagner, meanwhile, has made numerous statements over the years that make it clear he’s no great friend to education, particularly our teachers.
He once said “if we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
He’s also said earlier this year that he believes that the state spends “enough money” on public schools.
Disingenuous charge: That makes his recent charge that Wolf is looking to cut funding to certain school districts completely disingenuous.
Gov. Wolf has said that the state needs “a fair funding formula for all dollars going into public education.”
Wagner took that simple statement and somehow twisted it into a charge that Wolf wants deep and immediate funding cuts for certain school districts.
That’s simply not true. Wolf does not support an immediate shift that would result in cuts to school districts. He maintains that he supports fair funding, adequate funding and increased funding.
Wagner was unable to point to a single instance where Wolf said he thought the switch from the existing distribution system should be immediate or resulting in cuts to certain districts.
That little fact escaped Wagner, which is nothing unusual. Mr. Wagner seldom lets the facts get in the way of a good story.
New formula approved in 2015: In 2015, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a formula that was designed to favor poorer districts and districts with growing student populations after a quarter century of school-funding formulas that did not entirely account for shifts in wealth or population, while protecting shrinking districts.
It was a long overdue move.
The new formula, thus far, has applied to increases in school aid approved since then, or about $539 million.
Nevertheless, Wagner insists — without any evidence — that Wolf wants to immediately redirect $5.5 billion for public school instruction and operations through the new formula.
An about face: Even worse, Wagner is accusing Wolf of a policy that he has supported in the past.
When the new formula was adopted in 2015, the lawmakers opted against changing how existing school aid was distributed under what is called a “hold harmless” provision. In the past, Wagner said that provision should eliminated and has criticized it for protecting shrinking districts.
Now he has done a complete about face, and ripped Wolf for a policy he himself previously supported.
It’s more than a little hypocritical.
Of course, it’s obvious that doesn’t bother Wagner. He’s just hoping his rhetoric will drown out those troublesome facts.
It worked for Trump in 2016. Now our own Pennsylvania Trump hopes it will work again in 2018.