The Lead

Democrats satisfied with Wolf budget request

By: - February 4, 2020 4:55 pm

Former state House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, who lost re-election last year as found a second life as a member of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (Capital-Star file)

After a budget address that included a laundry list of liberal priorities — from gun control and charter school reforms to LGBT non-discrimination and more money for human services programs, Democratic lawmakers stood by Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday. 

“It’s about time,” that such issues were addressed in a budget, Rep. Stephen Kinsey, D-Philadelphia, told the Capital-Star. “And we really need to take action and you see him being a visionary leader.”

Wolf’s 2019 budget, fresh off a landslide reelection in 2018, catered too much to Republicans, some Democrats vented privately at the time.

The second-term governor also was assailed from the left for caving on minimum wage, signing the elimination of General Assistance, and agreeing to eliminate straight-ticket voting.

To build rapport and patch hurt feelings, Wolf met privately with Democratic lawmakers — both leadership and rank-and-file — throughout the fall, Democrats said Tuesday. The fruits of those meetings showed up in the administration’s budget ask.

“His speech reflects our members agenda and we can get a lot of it done,” House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said.

Dermody added that he didn’t expect every proposal to cross the finish line. But on issues such-as universal, full day kindergarten, increased funding for pre-k, or extra staffing for the Department of Environmental Protection, Dermody expects to success come June.

Other Democrats, such as  Kinsey, applauded the focus on reducing gun violence, through funding for community programs and tightening ownership restrictions through  universal background checks.

Wolf spent the final portion of his speech hammering home the need to take action on gun violence, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly has repeatedly balked at.

But Wolf’s focus also highlights the rift among Democrats, particularly in the House, where western Blue Dogs, such as  Rep. Chris Sainato, of Lawrence County, coexist with progressive urban and suburban Democrats.

Sainato, who represents New Castle, said he liked the education components of Wolf’s budget. But he didn’t hesitate to oppose the call for new gun laws.

“There’s many of us in the west who support the Second Amendment,” Sainato told the Capital-Star. “[Wolf] has a right to propose what he does, and we have a right to believe the way we do.”

Some progressive Democrats still could list priorities they wished Wolf had addressed. 

Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, a progressive, said she wanted to “look critically at all the corporate giveaways that we have available in the state,” and appreciated Wolf targeting the state’s horse racing fund to pay for a low income tuition assistance program.

Innamorato said she wanted to focus state spending on affordable housing and mass transit — two items mostly absent from the address and the budget.

“If we aren’t prioritizing a budget that prioritizes people, we aren’t going to be able to solve any of these systemic issues,” Innamorato told the Capital-Star.

But the address is just the beginning of the fight, lawmakers noted. And the address provides a blueprint for next six months until a budget is due on Wolf’s desk.

“I saw it as a common sense, thoughtful budget that we can work on,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.