In what was an otherwise sobering night for Democrats, Pennsylvania businessman and former Secretary of Revenue Tom Wolf defeated incumbent Republican governor Tom Corbett with 54.9 percent of the vote. But Republicans strengthened their majorities in both houses of the Pennsylvania state legislature, meaning that Wolf will face an uphill fight to enact his ambitious legislative agenda.
Wolf, who was buoyed by deep dissatisfaction with Corbett, became the first person to unseat a sitting governor in Pennsylvania since the state constitution was amended in 1968 to allow governors a second term. He is also the only Democrat who captured a governorship currently held by the GOP.
Republicans, by contrast, won control of four states where the incumbent is a Democrat — Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts.
In spite of Corbett’s perilously low approval ratings, Republicans captured three new seats in the state’s Senate, giving them 30 of the 50 seats in the upper chamber. They also expanded their majority in the 203-seat state House from 111 to 119 votes.
Republicans won in both the state Senate and state House districts that encompass Swarthmore. In one of the closest races in the state, Republican Tom McGarrigle beat Democrat John Kane 51.1 to 48.9 percent to succeed retiring Republican state Senator Edwin Erickson. Republican state representative Joe Hackett won re-election, defeating Democrat Leanne Krueger-Braneky 56 to 44 percent.
Wolf has pledged to institute an extraction tax on natural gas drillers, restore roughly $1 billion in cuts to education and institute a progressive income tax. But he is likely to face stiff opposition from Republicans. On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told reporters that Wolf “will have a difficult time increasing any taxes.”
He will face additional difficulties beyond Republican opposition. He is inheriting a projected $1.3 billion deficit and growing public pension system costs, which may further complicate his efforts to increase educational funding.
In addition, Pennsylvania’s constitution contains a provision, known as the uniformity clause, mandating that “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects.” Wolf has pledged that his plan to institute higher taxes on the wealthy will be constituted in a way that is constitutional. But the provision means that even if Wolf gets his income tax increase through the legislature, it will almost certainly face legal challenges.
Pennsylvania is one of only eight states to have a flat tax rate. Seven others do not have an income tax, and two only tax dividend and interest income.