Tom Wolf Answers the Keystone Politics Issue Questionnaire

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Education

1. Under Tom Corbett, the state’s share of education funding has dropped from 44 percent to 32 percent – well below the national average of 48 percent. What do you think is the right ratio of state-to-local funding? Could you support HB-76/SB-76 – the bipartisan bills that would make state government responsible for 100% of education funding?

The key to good jobs and a secure middle class is a strong public education system. I believe that the State’s goal should be to cover at least 50 percent of the costs associated with educating our children. By increasing state funding, we can help alleviate the tax burden on local property owners, and ensure that students have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed in school.

2. Tom Corbett and the Republicans immediately abandoned Ed Rendell’s hard-won education funding formula, which increased state money for districts who serve larger populations of economically-disadvantaged students. The effect was to take much more money from poorer school districts than from wealthier ones. What is your view of the Rendell formula, and would you pledge to use it again?

I support Governor Rendell’s funding formula, and believe it essential to ensuring that state funds are distributed in an equitable and transparent manner. As governor, I will work to institute a formula that includes a nationally competitive base rate, and ties additional funds to district size, poverty levels, local tax efforts, and student makeup.

Health Care

3. Congress opted not to create a federal public insurance option in the Affordable Care Act, but they gave state governments lots of flexibility to do basically anything that will reduce costs more than the ACA envisions. Which state-level cost control ideas do you support? Should PA follow Vermont’s lead and adopt a single-payer insurance system? Should we copy Maryland’s successful all-payer rate setting policy? Do you support HB 1526, Bob Freeman’s public insurance option bill that allows individuals and businesses to buy into the State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF)?

First, it is essential that we expand Medicaid. I find it unconscionable that Governor Corbett has not taken any action to do so. We know that expanding this program will increase healthcare coverage to nearly half-a-million Pennsylvanians, save the Commonwealth millions of dollars, and pump billions into the state’s economy.

In addition to expanding Medicaid, I will work to control costs and increase transparency by creating a state insurance exchange, supporting legislation like Representative Freeman’s House Bill 1526, and exploring the possibility of other health care reforms, like an all payer claims database.

Economy

4. About 78% of Pennsylvania’s GDP comes from the top 5 largest metro areas (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lehigh Valley, Harrisburg and Scranton), and more than half comes from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh alone. How can state government help our large metro economies grow and create even more jobs?

As governor, I will work to create strong, sustainable, middle-class jobs across Pennsylvania. As a business owner, I have experience creating jobs, and I am keenly aware of the barriers that are holding the state back from being a leader in the 21st century. Because of our location, our people, and our resources, we should be an engine of economic growth. To get there, we need invest in infrastructure so that we can move people and goods quickly and efficiently, which will allow businesses and corporations to operate virtually anywhere in the state.

Additionally, we need to leverage the work being done in our institutions of higher learning by turning theoretical ideas into action. This will help us attract high-tech, high wage jobs, and enable us to keep college graduates in Pennsylvania. Lastly, we need to close the current skills gap so that we have the workforce needed to revitalize our manufacturing sector, and are able to be a leader in the development of clean-energy technology.

5. PA has one of the top 10 most regressive state tax codes in the nation. Will you support an amendment to the state Constitution to allow a progressive rate structure for the income tax?

As a former Secretary of Revenue, I am all too familiar with our tax code problems. I will support an amendment to the state Constitution as I believe that it is unfair that an individual making $300,000 per year is paying the same income tax rate as an individual making $30,000 per year. In fact, we are the only Mid-Atlantic state and one of only nine in the nation where all individuals, regardless of income level, pay the same rate. As governor, I will explore and promote reform options that make our tax code more progressive and provide relief to hard working Pennsylvanians.

Transportation

6. SEPTA, PAT, and other transit agencies are seeing record high ridership, but they still face large funding shortfalls, because such a large share of their funding comes from federal and state transfers. The geography of political power in Harrisburg and Washington does not inspire much hope that our transit networks will ever be generously funded, let alone expanded. If these actors won’t step up, do you think it’s time to give county governments more autonomy to fund transit? Which of the following local revenue options would you be willing to consider: value capture? road fares? regional sales taxes? regional income taxes?

As governor, I will be a different type of leader. I believe that investing in our infrastructure, including public transit, will not only create good paying, middle-class jobs, but it will also position Pennsylvania to compete in the global economy. As a result, I am committed to investing state dollars in public transportation and infrastructure improvement. I will also support local efforts to generate additional funding for new projects but I firmly believe that these new dollars cannot excuse the state from contributing its fair share.

7. Ed Rendell established a Fix-It-First policy for infrastructure spending that was recently embraced by President Obama in this year’s State of the Union address. Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission reversed course and brought back to life a lot of undead capacity expansion ideas, even though vehicle miles traveled have been declining. Where do you stand on the Fix-It-First policy?

I believe that we are narrowing our thinking by focusing on what we are going to do tomorrow. The question should not be whether or not we fix our bridges. Obviously, it is unacceptable that Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, and that our drivers have to spend billions of dollars each year repairing their cars because of the poor state of our roads and highways. Any responsible leader would allocate the funds needed to repair our current infrastructure.

The questions we should be asking are what do we want Pennsylvania to be, and what does a 21st century infrastructure look like? I believe that in order for Pennsylvania to be a leader today and in the future, we need to expand our thinking and start focusing on innovative developments and modern telecommunications systems. We cannot allow our current infrastructure needs to hold us back and hamper our vision of what our state can be.

Municipal Policy

8. The Detroit bankruptcy has prompted some soul-searching about PA’s own municipal finance problems. With about 41% of PA residents living in a distressed municipality, it seems clear that the state municipal finance policies aren’t working. Organizations like the Team PA Foundation and the PA Economy League have argued that one key reason for the widespread distress is too much fragmentation in local government. PA’s 4,562 municipal tax bases and 501 school district tax bases are too small, and leave local governments too vulnerable to small changes in migration. What would you do to help reduce fragmentation?

I believe we need to continue to support regional cooperation, and that the number of local governments is not a barrier to doing so. When I served as the president of Better York, we worked with David Rusk to develop a regional plan to address the needs of all citizens living within the county. This work continues to impact how the local governments within York County think about regional policies and planning. As governor, I will support policies that encourage regional planning and shared services.

9. PA’s Municipal Planning Code makes Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) recommendations advisory-only, and does not require our 4,562 municipalities to develop their land use plans in accordance with the broader region. Critics say rendering MPOs toothless encourages municipalities to discount the negative economic and environmental impacts of their land use and development choices on their neighbors. Do you support changing the Municipal Planning Code to give MPOs’ regional plans the force of law? What else can state government do to lean against environmentally destructive land use and development patterns?

Regional planning is extremely important for addressing the diverse needs of Pennsylvanians. I will support legislative efforts to give Metropolitan Planning Organizations more authority, and prioritize revitalization over new development.

Environment

10. The PA Democratic Party platform officially supports a severance tax on natural gas drilling. If PA had a severance tax rate as high as West Virginia’s, we could raise between $800M-1B for the general fund – over four times as much as the Republicans’ “local impact fee” generates. Will you support a statewide severance tax?

Yes, I will enact a severance tax because it is simply not right that Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state in the country that does not charge a tax on oil and natural gas extraction – even Texas does. This tax is largely an exportable tax, paid by those living outside of Pennsylvania. Revenue from this tax will finally allow all Pennsylvanians to share in the benefits of this natural resource.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

6 Responses to Tom Wolf Answers the Keystone Politics Issue Questionnaire

  1. Pingback: Wolf Address Key Issues in Questionnaire | PoliticsPA

  2. phillydem says:

    Save for the possible entrance of Jack Wagner, Pennsylvania Dems really do seem to have an embarassment of riches in candidates running for governor.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      I love the David Rusk name-drop in here. It’s clear Tom Wolf has thought a lot about regional planning and municipal issues. I don’t have a favorite yet, but a Wolf/Koplinski ticket could portend amazing things for municipal governments.

  3. Pingback: 9/6 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  4. Skyler Yost says:

    Great questions Jon. I almost forgot you wrote it until I was impressed by the directions the questions were going. Keep framing the issues properly and the important issues will be a long way to solving in short order.

  5. York Green says:

    Being an Independent, I almost get taken in by the notion that spending Federal money is ‘bad’. That any fiscally smart person ‘knows’ this. Then I remember why I caucus with the Democrats and why I’m a registered Green. Spending money where it’s needed expands the economy. Corbett’s Jason-style slashing of the budget hurt my heart and our pockets. Glad there is a business-savvy candidate for Dems to choose from in the primaries. I stand by Wolf. However, whoever gets picked, I’m sure I’ll feel as good as I can about voting for them.