Gov. Wolf and Pennsylvania's remarkable budget turnaround

Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer (AP)

School funding increases and a bigger rainy day fund illustrate how the governor is leaving Pennsylvania in better shape than when he arrived.

Seven years ago, Tom Wolf rode his Jeep into Harrisburg to find a dysfunctional and debt-ridden state. After signing his final budget, Wolf will leave the governor’s mansion and Pennsylvania in a much better place than when he arrived.

The $45.2 billion spending plan boosts education funding by more than $1 billion while paying off $2 billion in past borrowing and cutting the corporate net income tax. Even more impressive, Wolf will leave behind a surplus of about $3.6 billion, while boosting the state’s rainy day fund from $2.9 billion to $5 billion.

Governor Tom Wolf speaking at the pro-choice rally at the capital steps in Harrisburg, Pa on Saturday, May 14, 2022.

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Not all of this is Wolf’s doing. Pennsylvania’s fiscal recovery was fueled by increased tax revenues from a rebounding economy and billions in federal stimulus funds from the pandemic. But even still, Wolf has overseen a historic turnaround of the state’s finances.

Wolf inherited a structural deficit of between $2 billion and $3 billion and a rainy day fund of just $231,000. Even worse, his predecessor, one-term Republican Tom Corbett, slashed education funding by $1 billion. An outsized portion of the cuts targeted Philadelphia. Corbett’s incompetence was matched only by his callousness.

Wolf, a Democrat who ran a successful family business before becoming governor, made education his top priority. Since 2015, he has increased school funding by $3.7 billion — despite stiff resistance from the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

As a result, there are plenty of compromises in Wolf’s budget. He agreed to pull charter school regulations aimed at improving ethics and accounting standards that have plagued some poorly run schools. The state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which provides corporate tax breaks in return for donating to private school tuition, will increase by 45% to more than $400 million.

While no governor is perfect, Pennsylvanians should be grateful the understated Wolf — who is smart, honest, and competent — was in charge during such a tumultuous time in history. He led the state through the pandemic and Donald Trump’s attack on the 2020 election. Although some of Wolf’s critics have taken him to task for his rigid handling of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, it is likely that the lives of many Pennsylvanians were saved as a result of them.

Wolf was forced to repeatedly use his veto pen to stop Republican lawmakers from passing a barrage of dangerous and wrongheaded measures, including curtailing voting rights, outlawing abortion, and expanding gun rights.

Republicans tried a new maneuver last week, approving a late-night measure calling for voters to approve constitutional amendments that would expand the General Assembly’s power to reject elections, require voter IDs, and outlaw abortion.

A Facebook post showing state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, and former GOP state lawmaker Rick Saccone at Wednesday's pro-Trump rally in Washington.

The Republican legislature’s continued assaults on democracy and abortion rights are a preview of what is to come if State Sen. Doug Mastriano is elected governor.

Mastriano’s qualifications have been questioned by those on the left and the right. His role as an enabler of the seditionists of Jan. 6, 2021, should give voters pause about his fitness for office. He spoke at an event promoting QAnon conspiracies and has spread Islamophobic and homophobic hate.

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Mastriano supports banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Mastriano has pledged to appoint one of his own handpicked associates to certify future elections, allowing him to effectively override the will of voters if his chosen candidate does not win.

As Wolf was busy working with lawmakers on his final budget, what was Mastriano doing? Mastriano was pushing a bill that would allow for increased voter intimidation while spreading lies about COVID deaths.

Wolf’s competence, compassion, and honesty are worth remembering when casting a vote for his successor this November.

— From the Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer via AP.