Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with the press. (Commonwealth Media Services photo)
Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
In just a few hours, as he has for the last seven years, Gov. Tom Wolf will deliver his annual budget address to state lawmakers
In a lot of ways, the political tableau that unfolds today will be the same as it ever was. Wolf will deliver his speech. Democrats will praise it. Republicans will puncture it. And advocates and activists will comb through the pages of the administration’s spending proposal, each of them hoping for a slightly bigger piece of the pie than they received last year.
But in a couple of big ways, this Wolf budget address will be like no other he has delivered before.
Notably, it will be his last. The York County Democrat will leave office in January 2023 after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms. And that means that today is going to be all about legacy-burnishing.
And that brings me to the other difference. For the first time since Wolf won re-election in 2018, at least two people looking to succeed Wolf will be watching from the wings: Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre.
There’s every reason to believe that Shapiro’s appraisal of Wolf’s valedictory fiscal blueprint will be appropriately praising. But Corman’s comments will be worthy of particular attention and scrutiny.
As the chamber’s senior Republican, he will play an outsized role in negotiating the budget that (hopefully) takes effect on July 1.
So he’ll not only be acting as the voice of the Senate GOP caucus, but also as a Republican gubernatorial aspirant who’s running in a wide-open 2022 primary field with a deep field of candidates who are each trying to lay claim to the mantle of the true conservative in the race.
That means that everything Corman says today inevitably will be viewed through the prism of his greater ambitions — and that will take on larger importance should he survive the primary and emerge as the GOP’s eventual nominee.
It’s notable, for instance, that he bragged about fighting Wolf’s agenda in a campaign commercial that launched on the eve of the speech.
The broad contours of Wolf’s spending plan already have been made public through the customary series of policy drops ahead of the actual speech.
And we know, as a consequence, that Wolf wants to push the Republican-controlled General Assembly to spend the billions of dollars worth of federal stimulus money that it socked away during last year’s budget derby.
There’s an argument — from the administration’s perspective — for doing that. Thanks to that surplus and robust tax collections, the state is swimming in cash. And Wolf has wasted little time taking credit for the commonwealth’s robust fiscal health.
Wolf has called this budget cycle a “magical year,” the Associated Press reported last month. And he has observed that “things are doing really well, we had a nice surplus at the end of last year.”
Last week, Wolf rolled out a $1.7 billion, stimulus-funded plan that calls for, among other things, $500 million in assistance to families to help pay for childcare and $225 million in small business assistance.
Republicans, who chastised Wolf for leaving small business in the lurch at the height of the pandemic, dismissed the proposals, saying they were “developed in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently doesn’t exist.”
So that’s where the players stand as head into the hours before Wolf’s budget address. But what about the voices of ordinary Pennsylvanians? Or at least those hyper-involved ones who hang out on Twitter?
We put out the call on Monday: What do you want to see in Wolf’s budget? What will you be looking for?
Here’s a sampling of how you answered:
“Nursing home providers are struggling to sustain resident care because Pennsylvania underfunds it. We are hopeful [Wolf] prioritizes a Medicaid increase in his [budget] so that care can continue,” the Pennsylvania Health Care Association tweeted, as it sounded a continued alarm on a message it’s been trying to hammer home for months now.
Karen Gownley of SEIU Healthcare, voiced a similar concern: “Permanent sustainable funding to end the nursing home crisis. Our seniors and caregivers can’t continue dying and suffering.”
Jeff Greenburg, the former director of the Mercer County Board of Elections, kept his concerns close to home, saying he “[recognizes] this might be narrowly focused, but [I] would love to see acknowledgement for the need of recurring and substantial state funding to help counties administer/conduct elections.”
And Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, said he wanted to see Wolf and lawmakers spend stimulus money to “jumpstart our economy – grant funding for small businesses that are still suffering pandemic effects.”
Those all are worthy causes, and none are outside the realm of the possible. Whether they get done? Well that depends on who shows up at the negotiating table.
Will it be the Republican majority and Democratic administration that cut a deal to spend spend $225 million in federal relief money to help front-line workers?
Or will it be the two warring factions, riven by disagreement over how to redraw the state’s political topography in the midst of one of the most consequential election seasons in nearly a decade?
We’ll find out in the days and weeks to come.
Monday’s first legislative hearing on adult-use cannabis was a reminder of how hard it is to get an issue that’s broadly popular over the finish line in the Capitol. Marley Parish has the story.
The state judge originally charged with overseeing Pennsylvania’s congressional redistricting case has advised the state Supreme Court to pick the Republican Legislature’s proposed map, Stephen Caruso reports.
The Senate Transportation Committee has approved a package of bills reforming the turnpike’s tolling system and financial reporting, with lawmakers hoping they will deter additional losses and make using the highway system more convenient for motorists, Marley Parish reports.
A top aide to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, has been tapped as the Democratic nominee for the vacant state House seat formerly held by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.
The U.S. Department of Justice has found that Pennsylvania’s court system is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for discriminatory practices against those taking medication to treat opioid use disorder.
On our Commentary Page, two advocates in the debate over recreational cannabis legalization get their say: Scott Bohn of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and Jeffrey Riedy of Lehigh Valley NORML.
The Inquirer goes inside Lou Barletta’s GOP gubernatorial campaign.
The state will get federal money to help clean up abandoned mines as part of the infrastructure bill, the Post-Gazette reports.
Pennsylvania restaurants are luring back workers with higher pay and better benefits, PennLive reports (subscribers-only).
State Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, has announced his re-election campaign in his redrawn 96th House District seat, LancasterOnline reports.
City and county officials in York County have joined forces to fight a surge in homelessness, the York Dispatch reports.
A Pennsylvania House panel has approved a bill allowing off-label treatments of COVID-19, the Morning Call reports.
Twenty-five of the 123 people displaced by an apartment fire in downtown Wilkes-Barre have moved into temporary housing in a local church, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
Philadelphia is losing its historic buildings at an ‘alarming’ rate, WHYY-FM reports.
Four states have announced they’re dropping their mask mandates, NPR reports (via WITF-FM).
Allegheny College will cut faculty jobs and programs as part of a cost-savings plan, GoErie reports.
Some of the most controversial U.S. House Republicans are attracting primary challengers along with headlines, Roll Call reports.
Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day (Pitchers and Catchers Report Edition):
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What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today. Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget speech gets rolling around 11:30 a.m.
Call of the Chair, 461 Main Capitol: Senate Labor & Industry Committee
9:30 a.m., 523 Irvis: House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
Call of the Chair, 140 Main Capitol: House Appropriations Committee
What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
7:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Natalie Mihalek
7:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Jim Gregory
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Anita Kulik
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Kristine Howard
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Gary Day
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Danilo Burgos
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Aaron Bernstine
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mike Sturla
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Nancy Guenst
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Democratic LG candidate Austin Davis
6 p.m.: Reception for House Speaker Bryan Cutler
8:30 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Camera Bartolotta
Ride the circuit, give at the max, and you’re out a pretty mind-numbing $22,000 today.
As you have no doubt gathered by now, Gov. Tom Wolf delivers the final budget address of his administration today. Stay with the Capital-Star for coverage. Things get underway at 11:30 a.m. in the House chamber.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out to reader and friend, John Meyerson, of Philadelphia, who celebrates a very big day today. Congratulations and many happy returns, sir.
Here’s some new music from the legendary Johnny Marr. From his forthcoming solo LP, it’s ‘Night and Day.’
Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina dropped a toughie, losing 4-3 in overtime, to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
And now you’re up to date.
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