“I’m a citizen politician,” said Tom Wolf Wednesday afternoon in the Yorktowne Hotel during our one-on-one interview. “So this is new for me.”
It’ll be new and not easy. If Wolf was anticipating a honeymoon, he learned Wednesday it’s already over.
In the morning, outgoing Pennsylvania Budget Secretary Charles Zogby announced a grim mid-year financial outlook.
“I would say we’re probably in the zone of looking at a $2 billion planning deficit,” Zogby told reporters during a budget briefing at the Capitol.
In the afternoon, Wolf told reporters he’s not only being left with a $2 billion hole, but the commonwealth’s cupboards are also bare. He called it unacceptable and wants everyone to know it not of his doing.
“I am inheriting a problem, a big problem,” Wolf said.
Zogby had little sympathy for the incoming administration’s plight and basically said it’s all part of sitting in the big chair.
“The dynamic that the new governor is gonna be walking into is no different than the dynamic that has faced this governor (Corbett) each of the last four years,” Zogby said.
But that’s history.
Wolf sat down with me to talk about the future. He feels he has a mandate to increase funding for schools and slap a five-percent extraction tax on Marcellus Shale drillers. He says don’t worry, he’s a businessman, and he understands the dangers of overtaxing businesses. He insists he won’t.
“There’s nothing worse for the business community than an under-provision of public goods,” Wolf said. “If we don’t have an educated workforce we’re not gonna have a strong economy. If we don’t have good infrastructure, transportation and communications, we’re not gonna have a strong economy.”
But how will the incoming democrat get anything accomplished with a deeply conservative legislature that now seems resistant to a drilling tax?
“You’re suggesting I’m gonna have to deal with different people, with different ideas about how we proceed. That’s what I’ve done all my life in many different contexts. That’s the way the world works.”
There’s talk at the Capitol that the republican legislature will try to push through a GOP agenda (liquor privatization, pension reform, paycheck protection) between now and Corbett’s departure. Wolf hopes not.
“I take office January 20th and between now and then the governor’s gonna be in a position to do a lot of things,” Wolf said. “I would just ask him and his administration to hold off and let me make these decisions.”
Wolf has made a decision about his trademark Jeep. He plans to keep it as his official car though a state trooper is required to drive. He’ll need to drive stick because the Jeep has a manual transmission.
“If I need more people in the car than two, however, the Jeep Wrangler is a little tight in the back seat so we’ll need an additional car,” Wolf said.
Wolf says job one will be an ethics edict to address the mistrust Pennsylvanians have in their government. He’s already made transition employees sign a gift ban document and says it’ll become permanent when he takes office. He promises to lead by example when it comes to integrity.
He’ll also donate his salary to charity or back to the treasury. This new style politician is promising to create a new atmosphere in Harrisburg.
What does he expect after a year in office?
Wolf says a balanced budget, more money for schools, and expanded Medicaid.
Then he paints a broader picture, “I want a Pennsylvania that’s actually getting into its stride. I want a Pennsylvania where jobs are being created, where schools are functioning, not just in some zip codes but in every zip code. I want a Pennsylvania that lives up to the expectations we all ought to have. This is a great state.”
Can this self-proclaimed citizen politician succeed where more seasoned politicians have failed? We’re about to find out.