Tom Wolf is Winning the #PABudget Fight the Ed Rendell Way

Mark Dent’s attempt at grading Tom Wolf’s budget performance thus far contains a useful error I see a lot of journalists making, which is worth flagging because it’s really the lodestar of bad budget reporting.

The trouble starts with reporters’ preference for scoring the budget fight based on whether the budget is passed on time or not. This basically doesn’t matter, but the media is uncomfortable judging questions of policy and political priorities (is there enough education money? should taxes be increased?) because those are located in the realm of opinion, so they prefer to fixate on objective measures like the arbitrary date the budget was due on.

The problem with scoring the budget debate based on timeliness is that it vastly shortchanges the importance of the contents of the budget, which is really the whole game.

In Dent’s view, if Tom Wolf ends up like Ed Rendell, holding firm on his veto threat until December, he’s necessarily losing the budget fight, because the budget just gets later and later.

But then he says right there in the post that Rendell ultimately got what he wanted by holding out for so long. That sure sounds like winning to me!:

No matter how calm Wolf acts about the impasse, he doesn’t want to begin approaching Rendell territory. Rendell is the Michael Jordan of late Pennsylvania budgets, having not passed one on time during either of his two terms, and his performance in 2003 was the equivalent of Jordan’s flu game, something that will not soon be forgotten and ended well but probably hurt like hell while it was going on.

In 2003, Rendell first introduced a budget that he didn’t really like, but the Republicans passed it anyway. So Rendell decided to veto it and held up billions of dollars for schools. That made many people none too happy during the fall, but Rendell ended up getting the tax increase on cigarettes and the use of slot revenue to reduce taxes he wanted when the budget finally passed in December, about six months after it was due.

Corbett had an advantage that neither Wolf nor Rendell had: a legislature controlled by his party. He didn’t receive a single vote from Democrats in the Pennsylvania house or senate but united all the Republicans on his first budget. That was enough for it to pass, a budget that was similar to the one he proposed in March of that year. It contained no tax increases and several cuts, including to public education. The cuts Corbett made throughout his term would end up dogging him as he tried for re-election last year.

By contrast, Tom Corbett “won” the budget debates every year because his budgets were on time, but then he lost reelection because the Republican budgets had shit for contents and the voters didn’t like the results.

Dent gives Wolf only two wolf emoticons for his budget performance so far, but why? He’s so far emulating the successful Rendell strategy, with the veto threat almost certain to crack up the Republicans’ “majority of the majority” policy at some point this fall, making it likely that Wolf achieves several of his key policy priorities at the end of it. And unlike Corbett’s priorities, Wolf’s priorities enjoy popular support.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Rendell: Candidates Who Run Against Sestak for #PASen “Do So At Their Own Peril”

Wonder if he still thinks this:

“Anyone who thinks Joe Sestak will be easy to beat in a primary is crazy. Joe has worked extremely hard the last four years,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who backed Sestak’s opponent, Specter, last time around. “Anyone who undertakes a primary should do so at their own peril.”

Posted in Elections, US Senate

#PASen: Rendell Chairing McGinty for Senate Campaign

Ed Rendell has a pretty mixed track record as a political king and queenmaker in the races he’s chosen to get involved with, but obviously you’d rather have his backing in a Democratic primary than not.

Rendell’s already made it known he supports Katie McGinty in the US Senate primary, and now comes the word from the McGinty campaign that he’s actually going to be chairing the campaign, and putting his name on the line a good bit more for his former DEP Secretary.

Senate candidate Katie McGinty today announced that former Governor Ed Rendell will serve as Chairman of her campaign. Rendell said that is joining the McGinty campaign because she has the right priorities and skills to deliver for working Pennsylvanian’s in the Senate.

“I am glad that Katie McGinty answered the calls from across Pennsylvania for her to enter the race for U.S. Senate,” Rendell said. “I encouraged Katie to run because she’s a problem solver who knows how to get things done. Middle class Pennsylvanians will have a Senator who will fight for good schools, good jobs, and affordable health care in Katie McGinty.”

McGinty served as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection in the Rendell Administration. Working together, Rendell and McGinty made Pennsylvania a national leader in clean energy, demonstrating that environmental challenges can also be economic opportunities.

“When she was in administration, I saw first-hand that Katie McGinty is a problem solver who knows how to get things done for working families,” Rendell said. “She will go to Washington and work to make sure that anyone willing to work for it has a shot at the American Dream.”

“It is an honor to have Governor Rendell as the chair of my campaign. He knows how to win tough races and I appreciate his support and encouragement,” McGinty said.

 Rendell served as Governor of Pennsylvania from January 2003 to January 2011. He also served two term as Mayor of Philadelphia from January 1992 to January 2000.

Posted in Elections, US Senate

Why Wolf Must Veto a Short-Term Budget

A three-month budget should be a non-starter for Tom Wolf, and he should immediately make clear that he’ll veto anything less than a full fiscal year’s worth of funding.

What the Republicans want to do here is essentially extend the Tom Corbett budget for another three months. And then another. And then another. And on and on for four years, as each stand-off leads to more can-kicking, and more extensions of the brutal 2011-2014 Republican education cuts.

No thanks!

The veto pen is the greatest tool anybody has in this debate, and as long as Wolf makes clear he’s going to use it, he can powerfully shape the terms under which the budget is debated. It forces Republicans to find a supermajority for another Corbett budget, and that’s just not going to happen.

After Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s special election win in Delco on Republican turf Tuesday night, there’s no way southeast suburban Republicans are going to provide the votes necessary for a veto override.

As long as Wolf keeps credibly promising to veto the Corbett budget, and doesn’t let himself get cowed by the media trying to shame him for a late budget (a total non-issue invented by Republicans when they were trying to pressure Ed Rendell to abandon his priorities in a similar situation) then he is going to win this.

Wait long enough, and the Republicans will take on more and more damage, and eventually knuckle under on the “majority of the majority” trick that’s slowing things up. Then suburban Republicans and the minority Democrats will hash out a deal on a severance tax, property tax reform, and education funding increases and everybody can go home and have a nice Christmas with their families.

Posted in Budget, Issues

#PA161: Leanne Krueger-Braneky Win Takes Veto Override Off the Table

Former Sustainable Business Network executive director Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s impressive victory over Paul Mullen last night on Republican turf in the 161st District special election sends a clear signal that Delaware County voters are unhappy with their Republican state representatives’ behavior during the PA budget standoff.

They want the suburban Republicans to support Tom Wolf’s legislative priorities, which they ran on. In 2014, Republicans did everything they could to communicate their support for a liberal agenda, doing everything from leaving their party affiliation off their mailers, supporting a severance tax on natural gas, and promising to restore the 2011-2014 Republican cuts to education.

Many Democratic voters split their tickets to vote for those Republicans, believing their campaign promises, and now those representatives are failing to deliver. Once in office, they did a 180 on the voters, and have been putting partisan politics ahead of the campaign promises they made.

Republican Paul Mullen ran the exact same play from that playbook in the special election in the 161st, trying to repeat the trick his colleagues played.

Voters weren’t buying it though. They are tired of fake liberal Republicans saying one thing on the campaign trail, and then not doing it in office.

That’s why they sent a real Democrat, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, to go get the job done in Harrisburg for real.

That should send a strong message to other collar county Republicans that the voters mean business, and the same fate could await them if they don’t deliver on their campaign promises.

And it should also put to rest the Republican leadership’s silly fantasy of winning a veto override vote against Tom Wolf. None of those suburban Republicans are going to vote for a veto override now.

The only option left at this point is for Republican leadership to abandon the “majority of the majority” practice that’s holding things up, take the Tea People out of the driver’s seat, and let the suburban Republicans negotiate with the Democrats so we can actually get a deal done.

Posted in Budget, Elections, Issues, State House

Elections Have Consequences: Tom Wolf Supports Obama’s Clean Power Plan

Tom Wolf’s reaction to the Obama White House’s Clean Power Plan, which would regulate emissions from existing energy producers for the first time, is a perfect example of why it’s so important for Democrats to vote every single November, not just every four years.

Wolf doesn’t shy away from the fact that hitting these new emissions targets will be a big challenge for Pennsylvania, where coal still accounts for about a third of our energy production, and which will have to achieve more ambitious emission reduction targets than the average state.

But crucially, he’s saying it’s a challenge he wants to take on, and he’s committed to doing what’s necessary to succeed.

You know what the response would have been had Tom Corbett been reelected. It would have been some combination of the hair-on-fire response you’re hearing from the PA Chamber and Republican legislators, and the saddo response from the coal corporations. Too hard! Too mean to coal! Scary noises about higher electric bills!

For Republicans, every imaginable setback becomes an excuse to do nothing, whereas for Wolf and other climate hawks in the Democratic Party, these are challenges that call public officials to rise to the occasion. The difference couldn’t be more stark.

The fact is that the Clean Power Plan would only accelerate a natural and ongoing process where coal plants are being mothballed and replaced with new natural gas plants due to cheap natural gas prices. It’s even arguable that PA Republican “frack, baby, frack” policies may be substantially responsible for the success of the War on Coal thus far.

And while it’s true CPP doesn’t prescribe a big medium-term ramp-up in natural gas market share at the national level, in Pennsylvania at least it’s hard to see how natural gas wouldn’t be the main beneficiary for the foreseeable future, during which time renewable industries will play catch-up at a much more rapid pace.

We’ve already cut our carbon emissions significantly by encouraging natural gas to eclipse coal, and the result has been cheaper power bills. The Obama administration argues that CPP will actually reduce power bills over the long term, as renewables are much cheaper to produce than fossil fuel energy once the infrastructure is in place.

But again, this is why it’s so important to get the methane regulations right, and with real regulations, not so-called “voluntary standards” favored by the gas industry.

Just today, a new report concluded with the chilling finding that fugitive methane leakage from gas drilling may greatly exceed previous estimates. Methane is right up there with carbon dioxide on the list of greenhouse gases we need to curtail, so this really drives home the urgency of action on climate change, and the need to pass a holistic suite of regulations for extractive industries that addresses all the known risks and emissions sources.

Posted in Economy, Elections, Energy, Environment, Governor, Issues

#PASen: NRSC Slams Joe Sestak for Transportation Funding Idea Supported by Republican Bill Shuster

The NRSC is running some billboard ads against Joe Sestak, over his stated support in his book for a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fee to replace the gas tax.

Reasonable people can debate whether it makes more sense to switch to this exciting new tax or just keep raising the gas tax as fuel efficiency increases. Act 89 proved voters basically just don’t notice gas tax increases, and can’t differentiate it from the usual ups and downs in the cost of fuel.

But the uncomfortable fact for the NRSC is that this is an idea that enjoys bipartisan support.

Republican Congressman Bill Shuster, from the big red 9th District in the heartland of Pennsylvania, is one of this idea’s most prominent advocates in Congress. And Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer, respected in both parties as one of the real transportation heroes in Congress, is also a big fan of the idea.

So it’s pretty awkward for the NRSC to go jumping the gun attacking Joe Sestak when they don’t even have all their own members, or even their most prominent members, lined up against this idea. From what I can tell, the Republican Party’s position seems to be to want to scrap both revenue sources and replace them with nothing, which would obviously make our transportation funding shortage much worse at a time when the Highway Trust Fund is reeling from short-term patch to short-term patch.

This is exactly the type of budget nihilism ex-Club for Growth director Pat Toomey has become known for in the Senate, and it’s precisely why voters need to hand the keys back to the adults by voting for Joe Sestak and the Democrats next year.

Posted in Budget, Elections, Issues, Transportation, US Senate

PA Dems so far hanging tough with Wolf against GOP veto override

(Hangin’ tough, in a funky way)

To override Tom Wolf’s veto of the fifth Tom Corbett budget Republicans have presented to him, Republicans need to get two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses to vote for that.

That means they need to get between 16 and 18 Democrats in the House to vote for the fifth Corbett budget, and 6-7 in the Senate.

But the most conservative Democrats in the House say that’s not happening, reports Charles Thompson.

A leader of the conservative wing of the state House Democratic Caucus said Monday House Republicans will have trouble finding the votes needed to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s June 30 budget veto.

Rep. Nick Kotik’s comments came in response to remarks earlier in the day from House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, suggesting an override push may be necessary if Wolf doesn’t start negotiating more realistically to reach a delayed state budget.

As long as Democrats keep sticking together until the bitter end, Republicans are going to have to abandon the “majority of the majority” rule and allow moderate Southeast and South Central suburban Republicans to negotiate a deal with all Democrats. That’s going to make the tea people mad at leadership, but there’s just no other way to get this done realistically.

Turzai also hinted at an outline for a potential deal that makes a lot of sense for Wolf and urban Democrats to take, on the substance. Moderate Republicans will vote for more revenues if Democrats sell out their donors in the UFCW on liquor privatization.

Wolf is going to end up having to give Republicans something they can claim as a win, and as I’ve been arguing for years, it doesn’t make any sense for urban and suburban Democrats to oppose this.

Populous areas of the state would enjoy more consumer choice and jobs if we allowed private liquor stores, and even more if we uncapped liquor licenses. This is easily worth trading for a severance tax and more school funding, especially if Wolf ensure that the plan is made revenue-neutral.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Suburban Republicans Ready to Vote for Severance Tax Whenever Tea Tantrum is Over

Looks like the Wolf PAC’s ads are working:

Several local Republican lawmakers also said a tax is on the table at the press conference.

“I’ve never been against a reasonable severance tax,” said Rep. Kate Harper. “I don’t think my caucus generally favors it, but I think if you want to do something in a bipartisan fashion and you get all the Democrats on board and a bunch of suburban Republicans then you get to ‘yes’ on that one.”

Suburban Republicans in the southeast in particular ran as liberals in 2014. They ran on voting for a severance tax and for restoring Tom Corbett’s cuts to education. But they really, really do not like it when you remind voters in their districts about these campaign promises in the middle of a budget stand-off.

Naturally they want to say that running ads against them reminding voters about what they said a year ago is unfair, but what could be unfair about it? They ran on these issues, they now have an opportunity to clear the budget logjam by voting for these issues, but they’re not doing it because they have their partisan Republican blinders on. That’s the definition of a fair political attack!

We’ve seen this show in Washington a million times now. Once the executive throws down the veto gauntlet, the tea people always throw a temper tantrum for way too long, and eventually leadership sells them out. Then the “majority of the majority” rule gets tossed out, and the budget gets passed with all Democrats plus suburban Republicans.

The only question now is how long the Republican leadership in the legislature is willing to let this drag on for.

Posted in Budget, Issues

As Wolf Gears Up For Environmental Regulatory Push, a Reminder to Focus on Methane

With the release of Tom Wolf’s regulatory agenda for the year last Friday, it’s a great time to refocus on the need to take a hard line on methane leakage.

Why is this so important?

Attitudes toward fracking in Pennsylvania politics come in three basic shapes.

Moratorium dead-enders

These are the people still pushing for a moratorium even though it’s been clear for years there’s no way this is happening. Tom Wolf didn’t support it during the campaign, and there’s even less support in the Republican legislature. It’s not happening.

Realist environmentalists

These are the people who know a moratorium will never pass, but still want to get the strongest environmental regulations possible. They may not support fracking, or, like Tom Wolf, they might support growing natural gas’s market share based on the belief that it can be a bridge fuel to a future where we rely primarily on renewable energy.

Climate deniers/Pollution truthers

These are the people who don’t care whether natural gas fracking is bad for the climate, because they don’t believe in man-made climate change. They also aren’t interested in fracking’s impact on water pollution or air pollution. For them, this issue is seen exclusively through the partisan political lens, and they’re in full-on confirmation-bias mode. Not reachable.

Most center-left Democrats and some center-right Republicans are in the Realist Environmentalist camp. What should that group be pushing for?

The key points to note are

1. natural gas really is killing off the coal industry faster, and that is the single most important thing we can do to get our greenhouse gas emissions under control.

2. Methane emissions from fracking threaten to overwhelm any cuts in CO2, and getting methane under control is key to getting greenhouse gas emissions under control.

Strong rules requiring corporations to trap their fugitive methane emissions have to be at the top of the agenda for the Realist Environmentalist crowd. Just like the severance tax was the hot topic of the budget season, methane needs to be the hot topic of the rule-writing blitz.

Wolf promised to take an activist stance on this during the campaign, saying more DEP enforcement resources were key to fixing this problem.

The gas industry flacks are already parroting talking points about “voluntary standards” as an alternative to new regulations though, which is going to sound like a freebie to a lot of people.

That’s exactly the kind of thing politicians can get away with when it doesn’t seem to them like the voters are paying attention. Which is why we’re going to keep tracking this issue and see it through the public hearing and rule-writing processes.

The regulatory agenda is pretty long, so this is a good candidate for crowdsourcing. If you see anything on there that’s worth tracking, leave it in the comments or email me at

Posted in Environment, Issues Tagged , ,