Wolf vs. Wolf: The real de­bate

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION - By Matthew J. Brouil­lette Colum­nist

Whether the re­cent, one-an­donly gu­ber­na­to­rial de­bate be­tween Gov. Tom Wolf and Scott Wag­ner was ac­tu­ally a “de­bate” is — well — up for de­bate.

Both can­di­dates had very lit­tle time to dis­cuss the is­sues most im­por­tant to Penn­syl­va­ni­ans: well-pay­ing jobs, ac­cess to qual­ity health­care, ex­cel­lent schools, a fair tax sys­tem, and a govern­ment that helps — not hin­ders — op­por­tu­nity.

Yet, be­cause Gov. Wolf has re­fused all other de­bate in­vi­ta­tions, his re­cent per­for­mance — along with his cam­paign ads — are all most Penn­syl­va­ni­ans will see of him be­fore the election.

This is to his ben­e­fit, be­cause on pa­per — and on screen — Wolf in many ways seems like a great can­di­date. He touts poli­cies to em­power busi­nesses to grow, en­able chil­dren to ac­cess a great ed­u­ca­tion, help in­di­vid­u­als land solid jobs, and spark eco­nomic growth. And he claims a record of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity — an irony not lost on those who have fol­lowed his bud­getary an­tics.

Un­for­tu­nately, “Can­di­date Wolf” is a far cry from “Gov­er­nor Wolf.” Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, Can­di­date Wolf “the re­former” claim­ing to stand up to lob­by­ists and spe­cial in­ter­ests. This sounds ap­peal­ing, but Gov. Wolf has a dif­fer­ent record.

Since 2013-14, Wolf has ac­cepted nearly $10 mil­lion in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from govern­ment union lead­ers, whose in­ter­ests are rep­re­sented by 90 reg­is­tered lob­by­ists in Harrisburg. In fact, Penn­syl­va­nia’s largest school em­ployee union, the Penn­syl­va­nia State Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, ben­e­fits from even greater in­flu­ence on the gov­er­nor through his Chief of Staff, a for­mer SEIU union or­ga­nizer and the spouse of a cur­rent PSEA lob­by­ist. PSEA and SEIU, by the way, are Wolf’s two largest sin­gle cam­paign con­trib­u­tors.

Mean­while, Wolf has ne­go­ti­ated bil­lions of dol­lars in tax­payer-funded con­tracts with these same spe­cial-in­ter­est donors — all be­hind closed doors — forc­ing hard­work­ing Penn­syl­va­ni­ans to fund gen­er­ous ben­e­fits union lead­ers de­mand, all while tax­pay­ers don’t have ac­cess to these same health and re­tire­ment ben­e­fits in the pri­vate sec­tor.

Or con­sider Can­di­date Wolf “the small busi­ness gov­er­nor.”

Far from be­ing a friend to small busi­ness, Gov. Wolf has sought to im­pose higher costs on busi­nesses, even sup­port­ing poli­cies that would force busi­nesses to lay off work­ers or close their doors en­tirely. In 2016, he im­posed a 40 per­cent retroac­tive tax on Penn­syl­va­nia’s vape shops, forc­ing ap­prox­i­mately 100 shops and 100 per­cent of their em­ploy­ees — or nearly one-third of all these busi­nesses in Penn­syl­va­nia — out of busi­ness and out of jobs.

Ad­di­tion­ally, when re­cent fed­eral tax cuts helped en­cour­age in­vest­ment by let­ting busi­nesses fully deduct new pur­chases, Gov. Wolf’s Depart­ment of Rev­enue passed a rule ac­tively deny­ing Penn­syl­va­nia busi­nesses this ben­e­fit — some­thing no other gov­er­nor in Amer­ica tried to do.

Then, there is Can­di­date Wolf the “job cre­ator” who’s made job growth a core of his cam­paign. But Gov. Wolf’s record is quite dif­fer­ent. Penn­syl­va­nia con­tin­ues to lag the na­tion in job growth while con­sis­tently main­tain­ing a higher un­em­ploy­ment rate than most states. The In­de­pen­dent Fis­cal Of­fice pro­jected Wolf’s plan to man­date a higher min­i­mum wage would cost 33,000 jobs. Ad­di­tion­ally, a sep­a­rate anal­y­sis found Gov. Wolf’s at­tempt to raise the per­sonal in­come tax from 3.07 per­cent to more than 3.30 per­cent would cost the cre­ation of more than 6,500 jobs.

Fi­nally, as a can­di­date, Wolf has touted his work to com­bat opi­oid abuse. Yet, as gov­er­nor, he ve­toed a bill tar­get­ing opi­oid over-pre­scrip­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing $1.1 mil­lion from a group tied to the very lawyers who lob­bied against the bill. Soon af­ter Wolf’s veto, this same group gave him an­other $500,000.

In many ways, Wolf’s slick TV ads present a pic­ture of the gov­er­nor we wish we had.

But it’s not the gov­er­nor we do have.

Should Wolf’s cam­paign per­sona earn him a sec­ond term, we hope the gov­er­nor we get is dif­fer­ent from the gov­er­nor we’ve had the past four years. Be­cause cam­paign rhetoric may get Wolf through a sin­gle 45-minute non­de­bate and even net an elec­tion­night vic­tory, but for all Penn­syl­va­ni­ans to win, we need a gov­er­nor who works for the peo­ple he serves, not for the spe­cial in­ter­ests who fill his cam­paign cof­fers and fight re­form at ev­ery turn.

Matthew Brouil­lette is pres­i­dent of Com­mon­wealth Part­ners Cham­ber of En­trepreneurs .

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