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Politics & Government

Wolf Hits the Road to Underscore PA’s Money Problems

Governor-elect Tom Wolf is on a statewide tour of sorts, though not exactly spreading a message of cheer as he lays the groundwork for his budget proposal in about three months.

Wolf’s Thursday stop in Kingston, Luzerne County marked the third news conference he’s held this month to talk to reporters about the state’s looming deficit, projected to be about $1.85 billion. Wolf has held similar Q&A sessions in Philadelphia and York.

Transition spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the governor-elect is simply trying to keep an open dialogue with the public and the media “so that they understand the reality of the situation that his administration will face.”

But Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna said Wolf is priming Pennsylvanians to hear his plans for raising taxes in service of his top campaign pledge: boosting state education spending.

“He has to convince the voters of this state that his March 3 budget address to the Legislature is on target, it’s the way to go, it will help solve the state’s fiscal problem,” Madonna said.

Reporters and the general public aren’t the only ones being courted by Wolf. He’s also making overtures to the Republican-dominated Legislature — he hosted a dinner with leaders this week.

The commonwealth’s projected spending gap would make it hard for lawmakers balance a budget next spring without making severe cuts to programs. But Wolf has made it clear he wants to go in the other direction.

“Restoring education funding remains his top priority,” said Sheridan of the governor-elect, “and he hopes to be able to restore that funding as quickly as he can.”

Wolf supports levying a tax on natural gas drillers and a higher income tax that targets the wealthy. Republicans have been resistant to both proposals. Drew Crompton, spokesman and counsel for Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said talks with the Wolf administration on such issues are still very preliminary.