About the things Gov. Wolf takes credit for | John Baer
A GOP lawmaker says Gov. Wolf's "accomplishments" are really the legislature's doing. But both the governor and lawmakers can rightly claim some credit.
A recent op-ed pitched to newspapers statewide by a Lancaster County Republican lawmaker caught my eye – for a couple of reasons.
It argues that Democratic Gov. Wolf, while seeking reelection, takes credit for stuff that (despite its often-useless self) the GOP legislature did.
Here's a sample.
"The main accomplishments of the last four years have been driven by Republicans: eliminating a deficit of more than $2 billion WITHOUT raising income or sales taxes, investing in the Rainy-Day Fund for the first time in a decade, restructuring the public pension system, authorizing wine and beer sales in grocery and convenience stores … and much more."
It notes that the legislature increased school funding (Wolf's big thing) each year, including in three budgets Wolf allowed to become law without his signature.
All true. And interesting, in a politically wonky sort of way.
And, yes, there's still a pension problem. Still structural fiscal ills. Wolf wanted more for education. And more taxes. And governors, of course, grab credit for positive things – and get blamed for negative things.
Such is life. But the piece interested me because of its author.
Rep. Bryan Cutler is not some far-right anti-Wolf fringer. He's not coordinating with Republican Scott Wagner's effort to unseat Wolf.
He's a sensible guy who began his career as an X-ray tech (maybe he can see through things) at Lancaster Regional Medical Center, became a lawyer, won a House seat in 2006 (at age 31), was unopposed in four subsequent elections, was reelected in 2016 with 74 percent of the vote, and is running now against an opponent he beat last cycle.
Also, Cutler, hardly a statewide name, is House majority whip and likely next majority leader, assuming the House stays GOP for the 2019-20 session, which is probable, but these days, who knows? (Majority Leader Dave Reed is leaving the legislature for the private sector.)
Plus, Cutler has a "good relationship" with Wolf. Worked with Wolf to pass Cutler-sponsored bipartisan bills expanding job opportunities for those with disabilities and toughening lobbyist disclosure laws. Worked with Wolf on bipartisan efforts to replace election of statewide judges with a system of merit selection.
Cutler even says that Wolf should highlight positives and that things are "legitimately better today that two and three years ago."
So, why'd he write the piece?
For the "unsung soldiers" – his fellow lawmakers.
"It's about the institution," he says. "I think it's important that the members be recognized for their work and leadership on issues. … Nothing gets to the governor's desk unless it starts in the legislature."
(The piece got picked up by about a dozen, mostly smaller, newspapers. You can find it on Cutler's website, www.repcutler.com, by clicking "latest news" and then "press releases.")
Couple things. Too few lawmakers ever think about the institution. Too few pols disagree — as Cutler does with Wolf on taxes, spending, and more – without rancor. So, oft-disagreeing (and oft-disagreeable) House and Senate GOP caucuses should take note.
Also, Wolf's campaign argues that when Wolf took office the state was a mess. Big deficit. Big school-funding problem. Liquor and pension reforms going nowhere. And so on.
That's true. A (sort of) deficit fix, more school funding, some liquor and pension reforms all took place on Wolf's watch. And whoever thought staid Pennsylvania would legalize medical marijuana?
Plus, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University just published its annual rankings of states' fiscal standings. Pennsylvania ranks 35th. Not great, granted. But last year, it ranked 45th.
So, that's something.
Wolf never got revenue levels he sought through proposed but legislatively rejected taxes. But he set a tone as governor — not taking a salary, instituting a gift ban, fighting gerrymandering – that calls for accountability in public office.
His reelection effort somewhat taints that tone. Refusal to face Wagner in a real debate (the Alex Trebek thing doesn't count) diminishes the electoral process.
But taking credit for state improvements when you're the person charged with running the state seems to me fair game. And Wolf last week at a bill-signing praised the legislature, saying it has done "some really amazing things."
Cutler, too, is right to note legislative achievements.
As bad as Harrisburg can be, some good things get done, even if incrementally. And partisan wrangling (when civil) over who's most responsible for positive change is fine. Especially if it leads to enacting more positive change.