The race for governor: How Tom Wolf would address 3 pressing Pennsylvania issues
For nearly two years, I have traveled the commonwealth talking with workers, business owners and struggling families about the need for a fresh start to get Pennsylvania moving again, fully fund our public schools, revitalize the state’s stagnant economy and rebuild the middle class.
I believe we can build a better Pennsylvania — where a dynamic economy will offer opportunities for everyone. But too often policymaking is about the next deal or reacting to the latest crisis. Pennsylvania’s sluggish economy is reflective of how this type of politics in Harrisburg is failing us. It’s time we think ahead.
We must start by providing our children with a world-class education that equips them with the skills to succeed in the 21st century.
We can begin to lay the foundation for a modern economy by restoring Gov. Corbett’s drastic $1 billion cuts to our schools, which have resulted in property tax increases, massive layoffs, the elimination of valuable programs and larger class sizes.
Though Tom Corbett has tried to paint a very different picture of what his priorities have been as governor, it is a fact that the governor’s first budget provided $1 billion less for our schools.
As governor, I will begin laying the foundation for a modern economy by restoring Corbett’s education cuts. This begins with a reasonable 5 percent severance tax on natural gas. With natural gas production at an all-time high, a 5 percent severance tax would generate $1 billion in 2015-16 and nearly $1.5 billion by 2018-19.
The revenue generated from a severance tax will go a long way toward fully funding our education system.
A solid education is paramount to solving a looming problem — Pennsylvania’s workforce is aging and business leaders fear that the next generation is not prepared to fill these soon-to-be-vacated positions. If Pennsylvania companies are going to grow and thrive in a global economy, we must invest greater resources in education and workforce development.
My Technical Education Applied to Manufacturing (T.E.A.M.) plan will improve vocational education programs in all high schools by:
• integrating academic curriculum with technical training so that students develop a strong foundation;
• working with local manufacturers to make sure that vocational curricula are aligned with workforce needs;
• and encouraging school districts to offer a nationally recognized industry certification.
If we are going to adequately fund our schools, we must also work to strengthen oversight of charter schools by instituting a better balance of accountability and creativity.
Currently, charter school funding is based on a school district’s per-student cost, which includes funds associated with services not provided by charter schools. The Pennsylvania Auditor General’s Office estimates that more accurate funding formulas could save taxpayers and local districts at least $365 million each year.
Right now, Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the entire country that does not use a fair funding formula for distributing state education dollars to local school districts. I believe that rather than creating educational winners and losers based on ZIP codes, taxpayers deserve a funding formula that is equitable, transparent and holds local school districts accountable for how they spend state and local tax funding.
But in order to accomplish these things, we also have to tackle our current pension problem.
Our current pension situation is the direct result of almost 10 years of Harrisburg politicians kicking the can down the road. In contrast, Pennsylvania employees have been contributing at rates that are among the highest in the nation. Playing politics with this issue is counterproductive and does not help address the problem at hand. We must find a solution that does not place an undue burden at the feet of taxpayers.
As governor, I will give Act 120 time to work and I will work with the Legislature to create innovative solutions and explore new funding mechanisms that are fiscally responsible for the commonwealth and fair and beneficial to taxpayers and future employees.
I will work to drive economic growth for Pennsylvania’s middle class by making investments in our future. I will use my experience in business and government to create jobs, invest in education and build a stronger Pennsylvania. We have an abundance of natural resources, vibrant industries, world-class universities and colleges and we are in an ideal geographic location to be the transportation hub between the East Coast, Midwest and global markets. Together, we can revolutionize Pennsylvania’s economy through innovative policies on the state level.