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“Uh, that’s a wonderful number”: A composite Q&A with incoming Gov. Tom Wolf

Tom Wolf becomes Governor of Pennsylvania today — and here’s the thing: We don’t know too much about what he will do. That’s because, as a candidate, Wolf had a frustrating tendency to, you know, not answer direct questions with specifics.

Now this makes sense! As a candidate, specifics were his enemy: They gave incumbent Gov. Corbett ammunition. Well, they WOULD have, if Wolf had offered any. But, as you’ll see, he didn’t!

So to illustrate this phenomenon, using actual Wolf answers to similar questions asked by debate moderators or journalists, Billy Penn has compiled this comprehensive composite Q and A. You’ll see some of Wolf’s best incomplete answers and outright dodges. It’s worth asking: What, specifically, is the Governor going to do now?

Again: These were actual (non)-answers Wolf gave to journalists and audiences during his campaign. Let’s get to it!

Q: Governor, let’s get right to it. The state is facing a $2 billion budget shortfall and here in Philadelphia it’s not much better. How are you going to steer the state and its cities out of this crisis?

A: If we want to have a healthy economy in this city and state, we need to understand fairness matters.

Q: Does that mean you want to reverse the issue of inequitable spending at Pennsylvania schools, or change the fate the of the middle class, which has shrunk in every Pennsylvania county in every decade since the 70s?

A: If everybody feels that they have a shot at making good in this state, we’re going to all benefit from that. Fairness is not a feel-good thing that comes around at election time with some politician checking off the box. Fairness actually matters.

Q: Name at least one way to precipitate fairness that could actually happen within the state’s budget constraints.

A: Well, I think I’ve been as specific as I can possibly be. I want to make sure that we have a fairer tax system. That applies to the property taxes, which are too high. It applies to the personal income tax, which I think is unfair. And it applies to corporate income taxes and it applies to the shale tax, which as you correctly point out I want to put a 5 percent tax at the well head.

Q: What’s the income level cutoff for taxing higher earners?

A: I don’t have enough data.

Q: Come on, give an idea.

A: If you’re still in the $70,000-$90,000 range — and you can double that if you’re married — you should not pay any more in taxes.

Q: How much would you raise the taxes of people making more than that?

A: I can’t honestly tell you the specifies of what the number will be on the rate.

Q: Would you have enough time to formulate this plan by your first budget address a few months into office?

A: I haven’t decided. I don’t know how long it will take to get that data together.

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Q: Besides cracking those tax numbers, what else is important for you to prioritize in your first few months?

A: This state depends on healthy cities, and this state simply doesn’t have healthy cities right now.

Q: Cities have poverty, unrest with police, gentrification issues, unemployment issues and much more. How are you going to tackle that?

A: Not every place is facing the same challenges. We need to make sure that whatever those challenges are we deliver on the promise of a good education.

Q: Can you guarantee a good education considering the state’s perennial shortfalls and the drastic cuts that have teachers wishing for paper?

A: We can talk about statistics all we want, but education has been cut. We have not done a good job on following through on the promise we make in our Constitution to deliver a thorough and efficient system of public education. We need to do that. We can do a better job than we’re doing. I know you can’t throw money at any problem and expect a good outcome, but you can’t keep disinvesting in it, either.

Q: Right now the state spends about $27 billion on education when you take property taxes and federal subsidies into account. How much money should the state be spending on schools to live up to your promise of fairness?

A: How much money is that going to take? I don’t know. But it’s not enough to say, we’re going to spend more or we’re going to spend less. What we need to do is say, we need to have a public education system that delivers.

Q: Give the number. It’s $27 billion now. What do you think the number should be and needs to be?

A: That’s a good question. I think the $27 billion number, uh, that’s a wonderful number. Some of it comes from the federal govt. Some of that comes from the state. Too much of it comes from the local taxes. I think one of the things that we need to do is figure out how to reduce the local property tax burden for funding public education. I think that would free up some of the conflicts or eliminate some of the conflicts we have. But how much is enough? I don’t know.   

Q: Will the state’s budget woes help your priorities of getting more money into schools via a natural gas extraction tax?

A: I’m not sure it helps or hinders. I think what they [the numbers] do is promote a shared sense of crisis (with legislative leaders).

Q: Last one: You’ve been vague about your education and tax proposals in debates. Will you have get more specific?

A: I think the specificity is on his (Corbett’s) shoulders.

 

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