Pennsylvania is broken. While neighboring New York is poised to have a surplus of over $4 billion next year, our state is anticipating a $1.3 billion deficit. It is facing mounting pension costs. Philadelphia schools are falling apart.
Yet in spite of the widespread problems facing Pennsylvania, the state’s obstinate Republican-controlled state legislature and impressively incompetent governor, Tom Corbett, have been astoundingly unproductive. Aside from tax cuts, the government has accomplished virtually nothing over the past four years. After federal stimulus money that helped fund schools in Pennsylvania dried up, Corbett did nothing to ensure that Philadelphia schools got the funding needed, leaving them so anemic they nearly didn’t open on time. He has refused to tax the companies drilling for gas on the Marcellus Shale. And as a result of the incompetence of both the governor and the legislature, SEPTA was almost forced to shutter a number of its services — including Swarthmore’s Media/Elwyn regional rail line — due to endemic underfunding.
What has Corbett promised to do? In February, Corbett presented a budget that, on its face, looked as if it had solved all of the state’s fiscal woes — by kicking the can down the road. The budget relied on unspecified future reforms to reduce the state’s contributions to pensions and deferred by one month a scheduled $390 million to healthcare organizations that operate Medicaid. Sometimes, it was more explicit, simply postponing payments until a later date.
The Republicans in the state legislature, unhappy with Corbett’s work, passed their own budget, containing only some of Corbett’s delaying tactics. And in a monument to governmental dysfunction and petty politics, Corbett responded by line item vetoing the provision that would have paid for legislative operations, including salaries for representatives.
A change of guard is needed. Thus, we are endorsing Tom Wolf for governor, Leanne Krueger-Braneky for state House, and John Kane for state Senate.
The three, all Democrats, are admittedly newcomers to politics. But we have reason to believe they will be good elected officials. Wolf has pledged to institute a five percent tax on gas extractors and to increase funding for education by $1 billion. He has also promised to fight back against attempts by Republicans to institute laws requiring individuals to show photo identification at the polls, which would likely render thousands of mostly poor and minority voters ineligible to vote (the current law attempting to institute such a requirement was struck down).
But Wolf’s already daunting task might just be rendered Sisyphean if Democrats cannot at least dent the Republican stranglehold on the state legislature. Electing Krueger-Braneky and Kane is therefore critical. The former, the first executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, and the latter, a union leader and member of the SEPTA board, have both promised to work with Wolf to fix the state’s financial and educational woes. Each supports taxing drilling the Marcellus Shale and increasing funding for education.
While Wolf has a commanding lead in the polls, electing Krueger-Braneky and Kane will not be easy. Both face the Delaware county Republican machine that, in the distant and not-so-distant past, has relied on quasi-legal tactics to keep locally elected officials in its fold.
But if the state’s fortunes are going to turn around, doing so is crucial.