Gov. Tom Wolf will get an on-time budget. But will he get a win? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

June 25, 2019 7:05 am

Gov. Tom Wolf in Philadelphia on Wednesday (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

When Gov. Tom Wolf romped to re-election over Republican Scott Wagner last fall, it was tempting to think, at least for a moment there, that Pennsylvania’s 47th chief executive was going to have political capital to spare as he embarked on the fifth budget season of his administration.

Certainly, there were plenty of cooperative noises during those early days in February when Republicans didn’t immediately pour cold water all over Wolf’s$34 billion spending plan.

Yes, they were down for workforce development. And more money for schools. And corporate tax reductions. And stuff that wasn’t exactly the heaviest of political lifts.

But the negotiated, $34 billion spending plan that came out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday afternoon was a reminder that the rules of the irresistible force colliding with the immovable object still apply. And they apply vigorously in a building where, though they are diminished, Republicans still maintain legislative majorities on both sides of the Capitol.

Notable in their absence was anything approximating an increase to Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which has been mired at $7.25 an hour for a decade, and may remain there until the nation is thrust into a Hunger Games-level of despair, and Pennsylvania and West Virginia are melded together into District 12.

Republicans were also apparently successful in their push to drive a stake through the state’s general assistance program, which provides de minimis cash payments to some of the most vulnerable of the state’s residents. Funding was not included for the program.

While it was privately fuming, the administration publicly put the best face it could on the negotiated budget plan, saying it met its objectives for a “budget proposal that would make investments in all levels of education, build on our progress to have the nation’s strongest workforce and help children and their families at early periods of development, while making large deposits in the Rainy Day Fund and structurally balancing after years of deficits.”

In an email blast to reporters, the administration specifically pointed to the inclusion of a $200 million deposit in the Rainy Day fund; more money for public schools; more money for early childhood education programs, and more money for workforce development programs.

Which is great, but still isn’t the life-changing minimum wage hike the administration was pushing for up until Monday morning. Nor is there the win on general assistance that the advocacy community had been hoping for.

In an email, administration spokesman J.J. Abbott laid blame for the former strictly at the feet of the GOP, saying “House Republicans made it clear that they were not negotiating a minimum wage increase before the end of the fiscal year.”

In a follow-up statement, the administration held out hope that their tunnel to victory might not be the cliff face that it seemed on Monday afternoon.

In an email, Abbott noted that there may still be “room for progress” on minimum wage and other key issues as the administration and legislative leaders hammer out an agreement on the “code bills” that serve as a blueprint for spending the money in the general fund budget. Wolf will “continue to push for any progress on his bold agenda until the process is complete.

“Despite divided government, there are significant areas of progress in this bill and other legislation that should pass before the Legislature recesses … And no matter what, Governor Wolf will continue to fight for his priorities through the summer and into the fall,” Abbott continued.

So it appears that general assistance funding and the minimum wage have joined the severance tax on the administration’s list of long-sought goals.

There are, after all, plenty of fish in the sea. It’s just that, for Wolf, too many are starting to look like white whales.

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Our Stuff:
Stephen Caruso
 has everything you need to know about the $34 billion spending plan that came out of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday. A floor vote is expected today. He also has this can’t-miss takeout on a threat to state funding for the University of Pittsburgh over fetal tissue research.

A minimum wage hike for teachers may not be dead after allElizabeth Hardison reports. It may just be happening in a code bill.

Sarah Anne Hughes runs down the latest on what’s happening to the state’s General Assistance program. She also has this story about the 100th anniversary of a Capitol event celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Democrats in the state Senate have asked Gov. Tom Wolf for a disaster declaration on gun violence.

On our Commentary Page, here’s our take on House Speaker Mike Turzai’seffort to sneak a religious exemption for the Catholic Church into a code bill so that it doesn’t have to offer adoption and foster services to same-sex couples.

Sure, the Democratic debates later this week are going to be a circus. But they’re also idea incubators, Opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan argues.

And what do you get when the ACLU-PA and the state branch of Americans for Prosperity get together in a room? You get this op-Ed arguing that Pennsylvania’s current probation system keeps people trapped in a “cycle of incarceration.”

The Philadelphia Skyline from the ‘Rocky Steps’ at the Philly Art Museum. Photo by Steve Lange, courtesy of Flickr Commons.

The Inquirer
 profiles new Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym, and explains the progressive’s rise to power.
PennLive profiles the top earners at the cash-strapped Harrisburg public schools.
Finally truce: Highmark and UPMC have reached a 10-year pact, the Post-Gazette reports.
Vandals have defaced a monument to a fallen Pittsburgh police officer, the Tribune-Review reports.
Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak is a former Navy admiral. The Morning Call runs down the other veterans in the 2020 primary pack.

Here’s your #Pittbsurgh Instagram of the Day:

WHYY-FM explains how undocumented teens in Philadelphia are finding a community support system.
Pennsylvania’s budget compromise is dependent on saving surplus funds, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
Progressives in the House aren’t real thrilled about the budget plan that came out of the House Appropriations Committee and some are still hoping for a win, the PA Post reports.
Democrats have their candidate for the 85th House District seat formerly held by Republican Fred Keller, who’s now in Congress, PoliticsPA reports.
Yes, Joe Biden is a one-man gaffe machine. No, voters don’t carePolitico reports.
At least for now, the concept of ‘electability’ isn’t that big a deal for 2020 DemsRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m., the Senate at 1 p.m.
11 a.m,. Finance Building: Auditor General Eugene DePasquale follows up on his dog law audit, joined, of course, by some actual rescue dogs.
12 p.m., LG’s Porch: Sen. Sharif Street and Rep. Jason Dawkins hold a newser on a path to parole for people sentenced to life without parole.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s has an 8:06 a.m. phoner with KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Okay – now we’re impressed. The wheels of the political machine are actually in park today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Super-ultra-mega-wicked best wishes go out to Philadelphia Daily Newscolumnist John Baer who rings in another year of withering glances and acidically accurate observations on state government. Congrats also to Republican consultant Mike DeVanney, of Pittsburgh, who celebrates today; Congrats and enjoy the day, gents.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s one from Bombay Bicycle Club to get you through your Tuesday. It’s ‘Always Like This.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Philly beat the Mets 13-7 on Monday night. Who says we never say anything nice about Philly teams?

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.