Gov. Wolf made a hard and painful decision when he vetoed the stopgap funding for schools and human service agencies. It is obvious to everyone that non-profits that rely on state and federal funding to serve the needs of the elderly, the disabled, the hungry and the abused cannot operate on thin air and good intentions. They need to pay staff, buy supplies and keep the lights on just like any other business. If they can’t pay their staff or their bills, they have no choice but to cut back services or close down altogether.
That’s the cold reality that Gov. Wolf had to face when he decided to veto the legislation that would have opened the funding spigots just enough to pay the bills through October. Hard as that decision must have been, the governor did the right thing to force the Republicans in the General Assembly to negotiate a responsible budget.
Last November voters, dismayed by the damage to public schools brought about by the disastrous budget cuts of the last four years, elected Tom Wolf. It turned out that Pennsylvanians apparently believe that every child deserves a decent education in safe, well-staffed public schools. When former Gov. Corbett cut $1 billion from public school funding 33,000 teachers, school nurses, guidance counselors and other education staff lost their jobs. School districts cut sports, music, art, language and other programs even as local school boards raised property taxes to keep the doors open.
Tom Wolf told the voters he would find the money to restore public school funding by enacting a severance tax on gas drillers, as every other major gas-producing state does. He also promised to disrupt Harrisburg’s politics-as-usual culture by refusing to play the cynical partisan games the voters are so tired of.
Unfortunately, he ran into intransigent opposition to increasing taxes on gas drillers. So far, legislative leaders will not discuss a severance tax, even if it means thousands of four- and five-year-olds will not get life-altering early childhood education, and their older siblings will find themselves in crowded classrooms within schools where programs such as music, art and foreign languages have been treated as disposable luxuries.
The new governor is getting a lesson in Washington, DC-style politics-as-usual. But Gov. Wolf is not a career politician. He has clearly articulated the values that underlie his budget – responsibility, equity, fairness, and transparency – values that the voters endorsed when they sent him to Harrisburg.
The governor was right to veto the stopgap budget to uphold the values that he and Pennsylvania voters share. That’s not politics-as-usual. It’s political courage.