Knock, Knock. Governor Wolf Drops In

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has started his term off with a series of meetings and visits with members of the state legislature. Wolf’s spokesman said he has already visited about 50 members of the legislature with plans for more. In a piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Amy Worden and Angela Couloumbis capture some interesting responses from inside the Capitol. Here are a couple:

“You don’t expect the governor of Pennsylvania to walk in when you hear a knock at the door.” Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia).

“In a bipartisan way, he’s walking the halls, talking to members – that’s been unheard of in my 15 terms.” and “I’ve served under four governors, there’s never been a governor who went around to offices like this….I think it’s a new way and a new day, and we should recognize that.” Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny).

“It was a nice surprise. I think he’s getting out to meet people on their own turf, and trying to establish a rapport, especially with people on the other side of the aisle.” Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland).

Mike McGann of the Unionville Times offered a similar quote: “I was working late one night, my staff had already gone home. And I hear the door to my outer office open and I’m wondering what’s going on. And then my office door opens and it is Gov. Wolf, just coming by to say hello.” Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Delaware).

However, the final quote from the Worden and Couloumbis article sheds light on the potential effectiveness of this tactic in the current political environment:

Drew Crompton, the Senate Republicans’ chief counsel stated “Was it a nice gesture? Yes. But you know this place. . . . There aren’t things you are going to just gloss over because a guy shows up at your door.”

Governor Corbett’s Agenda and the Fall Session of the PA Legislature

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Associate Professor of Political Science, Widener University

I wouldn’t hold out much hope of any of the big three items on Governor Corbett’s agenda being passed this year (transportation, liquor privatization and pension reform).  If there is hope on anything it would be the transportation funding bill. That’s been a high profile issue that resonates with voters especially with the weight limits imposed on some bridges. It can also be seen as a jobs creation bill. However, I don’t see the conservative wing of the House GOP agreeing to Governor Corbett’s plan for uncapping the wholesale gas tax going into an election year. I also think that the same group of legislators will become increasingly opposed to anything that Corbett wants because of his plan to extend health benefits.

PA’s Pension Problem

by Jonathan Walters

Widener University Masters of Public Administration Student

The Commonwealth of PA has a huge problem on its budgetary plate; a roughly 47-billion-dollar problem to be exact. This is the obligation from PA to its current and retired employees in the form of pension payments.  And according to PA’s Budget Secretary, Charles Zogby, this unfunded liability is certain to cause a further downgrade in PA’s credit rating if it is not addressed.

Given current projections, the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System will take decades to pay off. It is also estimated that in the next few years, this debt will grow to $65 billion; which represents a cost of $13K per household. Furthermore, there is a compounding problem resulting from a downgrade which would make it more expensive for PA to purchase capital.

Governor Corbett’s administration has proposed a set of measures to help combat this instability. One such proposal was the introduction of a 401(k)-styled retirement invest for future state or public school employees. This of course would not solve the existing problem, but it would keep the state from loading up on more debt.

Even though this threat is real (Moody’s downgraded PA’s credit rating last July), some are skeptical that pension reform will be addressed during this session.  Senator Rob Teplitz is quoted in the article below as saying that, “I don’t see it happening. At the end of the day, do you really believe the same body that increased its own pensions and caused this mess 12 years ago is going to vote to cut their pensions?” So not only do legislators have to deal with strong opposition from state unions, they would have to fight against their own financial self-interest.