HARRISBURG - Flawed policies, social biases, and a lack of imagination are hurting Pennsylvania's cities, Gov. Wolf says.
Urban residents pay more than they should for utilities, he believes. Infrastructure development follows sprawl. Racism has led to segregation of residents. And even advocates may privately consider cities "a tough bet."
"The truth is, if we actually had a level playing field, the cities would do quite well," Wolf said Tuesday.
The governor, a Democrat who grew up in a small town but later became involved in urban issues, offered the glimpse into his view of the importance and treatment of urban areas during a conference hosted by Keystone Crossroads, a public media project exploring challenges facing Pennsylvania cities.
His 25-minute speech also came as Wolf and the Republican-led legislature prepare again to battle over the state budget, an annual negotiation that at times has an us-vs.-them undercurrent about how much money flows to Pennsylvania's cities and its rural areas.
"If you look at cities as not basket cases, as not something where we have to push water uphill constantly to try to make a losing proposition win, we might be in a better position," Wolf said.
The governor was blistering in his criticism of how government policies hinder urban areas.
"The public policy environment in Pennsylvania, and in most places in the United States, is absolutely, positively hostile to cities," he said.
Wolf said, for example, that the costs of water, sewer, and electric networks tend to be lower in densely populated areas, but that public utility commissions require the charging of a flat rate.
He also cited Pennsylvania's heavy reliance on local taxes to pay for public schools, making it easier for rich communities than poor communities to provide education to their children. (Wolf has advocated shifting to a broader based tax to fund schools.)
Wolf, a native of Mount Wolf, a small York County town named for his great-great-grandfather, said he has learned the joys of city life by spending time at an apartment that he and his wife rent in Philadelphia.
"Most people in York County go to the Shore in the summertime. We go to Philadelphia," he said. "You can walk out of that apartment and be in a restaurant in like 20 feet. And you have buses going by, these things called buses. It's like magic. You cannot do that in suburbia."