By Dave Lemery | Watchdog.org
Whether it was Gov. Tom Wolf himself who chose the song, or someone on his staff, there was no mistaking the message blasting through the loudspeakers to the assembled crowd moments after the governor had completed his second inaugural address Tuesday.
The chorus of the 1970s rock song “Takin’ Care of Business” clearly encapsulated one of the core messages of his preceding speech while also summing up the tenor of his administration’s public relations push over the past week, describing a governor who sees himself as having accomplished a great deal in his first term in office and as a Democrat who is uniquely friendly to the business community.
In his address, Wolf painted a picture of a Pennsylvania at the start of his first term that was in disarray and despair.
“Parents no longer felt like they could promise their kids that Pennsylvania had opportunities to offer them, that their lives would be better than their own,” he said. “Business owners no longer felt that the soil from which great companies had long grown was still fertile, and citizens of this great Commonwealth no longer trusted that our leaders could find common ground. And frankly, after so many failures, we no longer trusted them to do much of anything.”
But in the governor’s view, just four short years later, the future of Pennsylvania is much brighter, with pension reform, school funding reform and increased enrollment in entitlement programs among the keynote accomplishments of his time in office.
“We’ve restored $1 billion to our schools and enacted a fair funding formula that made sure that our children and their opportunities are not restricted by their zip codes,” he said. “We’ve turned a $2.5 billion deficit into a surplus. We made the first deposit in our rainy day fund in over a decade. We’ve expanded Medicaid to cover 720,000 Pennsylvanians, and we’ve increased the enrollment in the CHIP programs so that it now serves nearly 180,000 children.”
Wolf did not note that he only signed one budget in his first term in office, with the first three going into effect without his signature. But he did concede that the accomplishments he cited were not his alone.
“We all come to public service with convictions that we know we can’t compromise,” he said. “I know I certainly do. And I know my friends in the Legislature do as well. … But that doesn’t have to stop us from sometimes working together to make progress for Pennsylvania where we have common ground. As [House Republican] Leader [Jake] Corman said, we are not like Washington. We can work together here in Harrisburg. We can get things done.”
And speaking of Washington gridlock, Wolf spun a parable about Ben Franklin’s skepticism of German immigrants in the 1740s that could’ve been intended as a parallel to today’s federal government shutdown over illegal immigration at the nation’s southern border.
“Franklin wrote that he was worried about whether Pennsylvania could survive the arrival of so many German immigrants,” Wolf said. “Now, Ben Franklin was right about a lot of things, but not about this. He should have had more faith in Pennsylvania. And I’m not just saying this because he was talking about my ancestors. Throughout its history, Pennsylvania has never been defined by one ethnicity or one religion, or one ideology or one region.”
As Wolf and newly sworn in Lt. Gov. John Fetterman each made calls for bipartisan action in their respective comments Tuesday, Republican leaders in Pennsylvania sounded a similar note.
“Today is a joyous day as the governor of the commonwealth will be sworn in to office,” House Speaker Mike Turzai said as the House met before the inauguration. “We members of the legislative branch, a separate and equal branch, will be there to celebrate with him and the first lady. To Governor Wolf, we extend as a body our collective congratulations and look forward to working with him in this upcoming session.”
That bipartisan unity could face its first serious test Feb. 5 when the governor makes his annual budget address. In prior years, Wolf has called repeatedly for the establishment of a severance tax on natural gas, a proposal that Republican leaders such as Turzai and Corman have derided as a waste of time given that their party still controls both chambers of the Legislature.