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Leadership rises as issue for Pa. voters in new poll

One in five Pennsylvania voters says the most significant challenge facing the commonwealth is the politicians who lead it.

In a poll released Thursday, 22 percent of voters ranked government and politicians as the top issue in the state. The category eked out education by 1 percentage point, which a plurality of voters had considered the most pressing problem since last summer, according to the poll from the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Opinion Research.

Four years ago, 11 percent of Pennsylvania voters said government was the state’s biggest problem. Pollster and political science professor G. Terry Madonna said this year’s state budget impasse, ongoing legal trouble for Attorney General Kathleen Kane and brewing frustration with politicians in general intensified the issue among voters.

“They don’t trust what’s going on in major institutions,” Madonna said. “It’s not surprising that, at some point, this would manifest itself when we ask people in Pennsylvania what’s wrong.”

The state is well into the second month of a budget impasse since Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a Republican-passed plan at the June 30 deadline. Republican voter Kathleen Harrison, 70, of Dormont said she sees shades of Washington within the stalemate.

“I think they’re beginning to sound like the feds,” she said. “I think it’s beyond time they should get their acts together, or whatever has to be done, for the good of Pennsylvania.”

The poll surveyed 605 registered voters — 49 percent Democrats and 38 percent Republicans. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Results showed 54 percent of Pennsylvanians think the Legislature is the responsible party when it comes to the late budget, compared to 29 percent who blame Wolf. Those numbers are comparable to previous budget impasses, according to Franklin & Marshall polls from August 2007 and August 2009.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, said this makes sense because governors use their bully pulpit to travel the state “speaking only in talking points — and talking points, by definition, are only what people want to hear.”

Inside the Capitol, Miskin said, Republicans’ ideas have not been met with true compromise. Wolf vetoed the Republicans’ pension reform plan along with the budget and a liquor privatization proposal that was a long-held goal for House Republicans. His priorities include a severance tax on natural gas drilling and a $400 million increase to basic education funding.

“We tried to negotiate in good faith with the governor, but he wants his proposal,” Miskin said. “Negotiating isn’t us compromising on our ideas and the governor keeping his ideas.”

During a visit to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Wolf said he won’t back away from his budget goal of increasing education funding despite the stalemate.

“I am not sure how long this is going to take, but I’m standing up for what I think is in all of our long-term interests,” Wolf said, “and I think when the dust settles, people will look back and say, ‘We took the right path here.’”

Wolf said he didn’t trust the figures on public pensions that Republicans most recently presented.

“I don’t like sitting at a meeting where every so often the number changes by a couple billion dollars,” he said.

Republicans secured record-breaking majorities in both legislative chambers in 2014, when Wolf beat Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Madonna said this forms a dynamic in which both branches are attempting to follow through on different goals.

“They’re both right,” Madonna said. “They both have a mandate, when you look at the nature of their electorate.”

Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, has served in Harrisburg for 17 years and said the “ideological schism” has never been this wide. The potential for primary election challenges keeps Republicans gun-shy of voting for the taxes Wolf and Democrats seek, he said.

“In the old days,” Frankel said, “folks would battle it out rhetorically on the House floor and throw the verbal bombs back and forth, but at the end of the day, leaders could go to the caucus and say ‘Enough is enough.’”

Wolf maintains his favorability ratings in the poll, with 39 percent saying he’s doing an “excellent” or “good” job. Madonna said those figures could drop if voters start to sense their lives are affected by the impasse.

“If he was to blame for this, his job performance would have dropped,” Madonna said. “What would surprise me, and stun me, is if there were a lot of disruptions and he doesn’t take the heat.”

Melissa Daniels is a Trib Total Media staff writer.


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