What dueling press releases say about the utter predictability of the budget ballet | Thursday Morning Coffee

February 4, 2021 7:10 am

The floor of the Pa. House of Representatives (Capital-Star photo).

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Wednesday’s release of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s seventh budget proposal to the General Assembly was met with the usual blizzard of press releases from lawmakers and advocates with storylines more predictable than an episode of late-period Friends.

In general, Wolf’s Democratic allies in the General Assembly were praising. Republicans were, well, less so.

Since re-running each of them here would result in the needless deaths of trillions of electrons, we instead decided to pick two such statements as the archetype of partisan reaction. And then, from there, try to divine what those reactions say about the state of our current debate, and the fate that might await Wolf’s $37.8 billion spending plan (any interior rhyme in the preceding sentence is entirely accidental).

First up, the progressive advocacy group Better Pa.:

“We applaud Governor Wolf for a bold proposal that meets the unique moment we find ourselves in. From pushing for a long-overdue increase in the minimum wage to investments in workforce development and small business assistance, to an historic increase in funding for public education and tax cuts for working families, this is the kind of bold investment in our communities that will help Pennsylvania rebuild, rebound, and move towards a better future,” the group’s executive director, Jan Jarrett, said.

“Now is not the time for our leaders to hesitate,” Jarrett continued. “We cannot reverse the health and economic devastation left in the wake of a global pandemic with a tepid response from our elected officials. Governor Wolf is drawing a line in the sand, and we can only hope that Republican leadership in the General Assembly will be willing to join the governor, in the spirit of bipartisanship, to make these pragmatic investments that their constituents and their communities so badly need.”

Gov. Tom Wolf gives the 2021-2022 budget address virtually (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

And here’s the right-leaning and business friendly Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry:

“The governor’s budget proposal this year comes at a hard time for everyone. The pandemic has brought the Commonwealth to a crossroads,” the chamber’s president and CEO, Gene Barr said. “For months, job creators have been forced to adapt to ever-changing situations and tackled numerous challenges related to shutdowns, closure orders, less economic activity and making sure they’re complying with state and CDC-issued guidelines.  While the development of a COVID-19 vaccine has provided a much needed ray of hope, businesses throughout the state – particularly small businesses – are hanging on by a thread. The decisions elected officials make over the coming months will either set us on a course towards economic growth or significantly delay our recovery efforts.”

“Unfortunately, as we noted last week, many of the policies recently outlined by the governor as among his top legislative priorities for the year – including a $15 an hour mandated minimum wage increase; an additional tax on the natural gas industry; and implementing unitary combined reporting – will only increase the cost of doing business in the state and make the Commonwealth less competitive overall,” Barr continued. “It’s disheartening that in addition to those anti-business proposals, the governor today called for a nearly 50 percent increase to the state’s personal income tax, driven by his desire to exorbitantly raise state education spending. It’s worth noting that Pennsylvania ranks 9th among states in per pupil spend and 10th when it comes to the average salaries of public school teachers.”

(Capital-Star data visualization by Cassie Miller)

What’s really striking here is the consistency in messaging between the two camps and lawmakers in the state Capitol, and the way they both elevate and amplify each other, resulting in the same partisan echo chamber that Wolf decried in his speech.

Even as the chamber’s Barr’s decried the impact of Wolf’s proposals on small businesses and the alleged harm of an income tax hike, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, complained during a press conference after Wolf’s speech Wednesday that “it’s unbelievable that a governor in a pandemic would propose this kind of major tax increase,”

And even as Better Pa.’s Jarrett praised the “historic increase in public education,” state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, said in a statement that “our plans for allocating state funding in other critical areas like education are going to shape our community’s rebound and recovery. I strongly support the governor’s proposal to make education funding more equitable through a significant investment in the fair funding formula. Public education can be one of life’s greatest equalizers – but only if every student has access to the same high-quality curricula regardless of household income.”

On Wednesday, I asked Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, if he saw any opportunity for compromise given the utter predictability of the partisan reaction to Wolf’s speech. He pointed to Wolf’s proposal to expand broadband access and increased funding for early childhood education as two possibilities.

Republicans and Democrats, alike, need efficient and affordable high-speed internet to work remotely and educate their kids. And early childhood education spending has long had an advocate in Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh.

During his speech on Wednesday, Wolf said he understood why Pennsylvanians might have grown frustrated with the lack of progress in Harrisburg on the same issues after years of trying.

“The people who sent us here are frustrated. They keep telling us what they need,” Wolf said. ” … And then we come to Harrisburg and all we do is nibble around the edges of these problems.”

Given the utter predictability of reaction and the mind-numbing consistency with which each side plays out its appointed part, is it really any wonder that’s all that ever happens?

It’s the very definition of insanity.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Stephen Caruso
 and Elizabeth Hardison have all you need to know about the details of Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed spending plan.

Associate Editor Cassie Miller rounds up reaction from politicians and interest groups on both sides of the partisan divide. Miller also has an incredibly useful visualization of the budget plan — by the numbers.

And, from me, a column: Gov. Tom Wolf tried to go directly to Pennsylvanians by breaking the fourth wall in his budget speech. Will they tune in?

On our Commentary Page this morning, a University of Mississippi scholar introduces you to Allison Davis, a a forgotten Black intellectual who studied — and faced down — institutional racism in the 1940s.


Photo via pxHere

The Inquirer
 runs the numbers on Gov. Tom Wolf’s education funding proposal, which would hand big increases to Philadelphia and wealthy districts as well.
An Allegheny County judge has ordered a popular local restaurant that defied the state’s COVID-19 rules to get in line or close, the Post-Gazette reports.
Spotlight PA looks at the future of voting in Pennsylvania with the resignation of Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.
The Morning Call examines what the Allentown Schools could do with the roughly $109 million they’d get under Gov. Tom Wolf’s education funding plan.
State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, says he’s upset that the Wolf budget eliminated $5 million in funding that would help Luzerne County recover from the scheduled shutdown of a state prison and a center that helps people with intellectual disabilities, the Citizens-Voice reports.
Thanks to a Biden administration action, Pennsylvania’s state-run health insurance exchange will hold a special enrollment period from Feb. 15 to May 15, GoErie reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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With the state urging patience, officials in Montgomery County are complaining about vaccine ‘line jumpers,’ WHYY-FM reports.
The state has no plans for a centralized vaccine sign-up, the Associated Press reports. The reason? There’s just not enough.
The York Dispatch talks to local GOP lawmakers about Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget plan. You will be shocked to learn that they don’t like it. maps state action on the virus.
Politico looks at the White House ambitions of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who’s turning into Dr. No on the Biden administration’s cabinet picks.

What Goes On.
It’s a snow day make-up day for the Legislature. The House comes in at 11 a.m., the Senate at 3 p.m.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a blast of sunshine-y pop for a February morning, From The Aces, it’s ‘Daydream.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Boston got past Philadelphia 4-3 in overtime on Wednesday night. The Bs’ David Pastrnak notched a hat trick, and had an assist on Patrice Bergeron’s game-winner.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

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