Two faces of Gov. Wolf’s budget speech

Humanizing gun violence and the cost of higher education

  • Ed Mahon
I once heard a school district superintendent offer this performance review of himself: “When all else fails, you can always serve as a bad example.” That brings us to the great state of Iowa and the problems Democrats had with their caucuses. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Lai looked  at whether Iowa’s experience is a prelude to chaos in Pa. later this year. Iowa’s “caucuses underscored the importance of having a paper trail as a backup record of results, and the potential dangers of technology,” he writes. –Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter
Governor Tom Wolf delivers his 2020-21 budget address in Harrisburg on Tuesday, February 4, 2019.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

Governor Tom Wolf delivers his 2020-21 budget address in Harrisburg on Tuesday, February 4, 2020. (Courtesy Gov. Wolf’s office)

Budget days are filled with numbers and lots of interesting policy issues to chew over. (This year’s budget proposal, for instance, pits horse racing against college scholarships — a seemingly unlikely pairing). But budget addresses are also a chance for Gov. Wolf to put a human face on his proposals. Here are two ways he did that on Tuesday:

A college student

Jacob Foil-Charles grew up in Tioga County and now is a double major in biology and music at Mansfield University, one of 14 state universities. Foil-Charles applied for a variety of grants and scholarships and also works about 20 to 25 hours a week, Wolf told a joint session of the General Assembly.

And the college senior recently had to dip into his family’s savings.

“We all know Jacob is going to go places,” Wolf said. “But imagine how much further he could go, and how much further so many students in our commonwealth could go, if the cost of higher education weren’t such an incredible burden.”

Wolf told Jacob’s story as he made a pitch for $60 million to increase state tuition grants, and as he proposed transferring $200 million from a horse-racing fund to pay for scholarships for students at state universities. Avi Wolfman-Arent of Keystone Crossroads and I took a deeper look at the horse racing proposal.

A gun shot victim

In past budget addresses, Wolf didn’t focus on gun violence. But he did this year, as he told the story of Erie’s Elijah Jackson. Wolf described him as a boy who loved to dance, loved to play basketball and loved to make his brothers and sisters laugh.

“He wasn’t just the life of every party,” Wolf said. “He was the life of his family.”

Elijah was killed in 2015 at the age of 16. Wolf said the teen got caught in a turf war that he had nothing to do with.

Wolf’s budget plan includes $6 million more for statewide grants aimed at reducing gun violence, plus a $4 million increase for the Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force.

But Wolf told Elijah’s story as part of a broader call for action, as he called for increased background checks, reporting requirements for lost or stolen firearms, and giving judges the authority to temporarily remove someone’s gun rights. The Associated Press looked at the gun issue and the difficulty Wolf faces in passing measures through the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Best of the rest

Gov. Tom Wolf's Office

The cover art on Gov. Tom Wolf’s FY 2020-21 budget proposal. (Gov. Tom Wolf’s office)

  • Wolf is proposing a $36.1 billion general fund budget for next year, a nearly $1.5 billion increase over the amount lawmakers plan to spend in the current fiscal year, WITF’s Katie Meyer reports. At a news conference following the budget address, Republicans shared one big criticism: They say Wolf wants to spend too much.

  • Wolf is not proposing any sales or income tax increase. He does want to lower the corporate net income tax from 9.99 percent to 8.99 percent, Katie reports, while also requiring increased reporting requirements when businesses file their taxes.

  • The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry likes the idea of reducing the corporate net income tax and Wolf’s workforce development proposals, but criticized his call for a minimum wage increase.

  • Wolf is making his third attempt to charge a fee to municipalities for Pennsylvania State Police coverage, Joseph Darius Jaafari explains for PA Post. This time, Wolf’s plan calls for all municipalities to pay some type of fee, although it would vary based on income levels, whether they have their own police force and other factors.

  • Transforming Health reporter Brett Sholtis looks at the $1.17 billion increase the governor is proposing for Health and Human Services.

  • In past budget addresses, Wolf didn’t mention charter schools, Avi Wolfman-Arent  reports for Keystone Crossroads. But this year he took aim at them, saying that some are “little more than fronts for private management companies, and the only innovations they’re coming up with involve finding new ways to take money out of the pockets of property taxpayers.”

  • Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, called Wolf’s budget address a “red meat speech,” one with lots of talking points for Wolf’s supporters to appreciate. “He hit on just about every one of them today,” Corman said.

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What you need to know about Gov. Wolf's budget address