The price for Gov. Wolf’s pivots?
Elections have consequences and elected officials are usually — willingly or unwillingly — the first to respond to changed political circumstances.
The election last November of a veto-proof GOP majority in the Pennsylvania Senate and an enhanced majority in the House created a new reality in Harrisburg. While the shift in terms of numbers was not great, the impact on public policy over the next two years will be profound.
The first to come to terms with this new reality was Gov. Tom Wolf. The governor’s first budget address was bold and breathtaking in the sheer size of proposed spending and the tax hikes needed to pay for it. A later analysis found that Wolf proposed tax hikes greater than those sought by governors in all 49 other states combined.
That triggered the longest budget stalemate in state history. Republicans won the standoff but caved in to part of his tax-and-spend agenda the following year.
Now legislative Republicans are even larger in number, and with nervous Democrats in marginal districts distraught over the thoughts of another budget battle, the governor finds himself in a diminished position.
Wolf seemed to immediately grasp the situation and announced that he would seek no broad-based tax hikes in his next proposed budget.
So how will that budget be balanced? Look for Wolf to again chase the left’s holy grail — a severance tax on natural gas drillers. In addition, he is also likely to propose a virtual smorgasbord of targeted tax hikes.
Wolf also has a trick up his sleeve. Having bowed to the GOP’s anti-tax position, look for him to toss the ball back into the lap of legislators and tell them to come up with either the spending cuts or tax hikes needed to balance the budget.
Another who understands the changed political landscape and knows how to use it is state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill. He is set to introduce legislation that would withhold state funding from any college or university that declares itself to be a “sanctuary campus.”
A “sanctuary campus” is one that harbors students who immigrated into this country illegally. The left, aware that President Trump is cracking down on illegal immigration, is pushing for safe havens by having schools, cities and other jurisdictions openly declare their intent to not enforce federal law or cooperate with immigration authorities.
With this move Knowles has finally put into play the Legislature’s most effective weapon: the power of the purse. By moving to cut off state funding to institutions of higher learning that fail to enforce federal law, he is serving notice that the Republican majority will no longer simply keep the money flowing.
Knowles could also apply his legislation to “sanctuary cities” that have indicated they will continue to harbor illegal immigrants and not enforce federal laws related to bringing them to justice.
Yes, there is a new reality in Harrisburg and now those who govern Penn’s Woods must adjust accordingly. Wolf has changed strategy, if not direction, and if Knowles is actually successful in defunding institutions that fail to uphold the law, the GOP will also demonstrate its ability to effectively use their majorities to actually impact public policy.
Lowman S. Henry is chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.