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‘Candidate Wolf’ sounds great, but isn’t real: Matthew Brouillette

Posted 10/11/18

Whether the recent, one-and-only gubernatorial debate between Gov. Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner was actually a “debate” is — well — up for debate.

Both candidates had very …

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‘Candidate Wolf’ sounds great, but isn’t real: Matthew Brouillette

Gov. Tom Wolf
Gov. Tom Wolf

Whether the recent, one-and-only gubernatorial debate between Gov. Tom Wolf and Scott Wagner was actually a “debate” is — well — up for debate.

Both candidates had very little time to discuss the issues most important to Pennsylvanians: well-paying jobs, access to quality health care, excellent schools, a fair tax system, and a government that helps — not hinders — opportunity.

Yet, because Wolf has refused all other debate invitations, his recent performance — along with his campaign ads — are all most Pennsylvanians will see of him before the election.

This is to his benefit, because on paper — and on screen — Wolf in many ways seems like a great candidate. He touts policies to empower businesses to grow, enable children to access a great education, help individuals land jobs, and spark economic growth. And he claims a record of fiscal responsibility — an irony not lost on those who have followed his budgetary antics.

Unfortunately, campaign ads can be doctored, and “Candidate Wolf” is a far cry from “Gov. Wolf,” who for nearly four years has road-blocked reforms, handed out taxpayer-funded favors to special interests at the expense of hardworking families, spent beyond the state’s means, and sought repeatedly to force the private citizens of Pennsylvania to pay for the privileges of the few.

Consider, for example, Candidate Wolf “the reformer,” claiming to stand up to lobbyists and special interests. This sounds appealing, but Gov. Wolf has a different record.

Since 2013-14, Wolf has accepted nearly $10 million in campaign contributions from government union leaders, whose interests are represented by 90 registered lobbyists. In fact, Pennsylvania’s largest school employee union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, benefits from even greater influence on the governor through his chief of staff, a former SEIU union organizer and the spouse of a current PSEA lobbyist. PSEA and SEIU, by the way, are Wolf’s two largest single campaign contributors.

While enjoying this campaign cash influx, Gov. Wolf consistently sides with these lobbyists on myriad issues, including opposing the expansion of educational opportunities for students, vetoing full liquor privatization, supporting broad based and punitive tax increases, opposing worker freedom to join or not join a union without penalty, and vetoing real pension reform to curb school property tax increases.

Meanwhile, Wolf has negotiated billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts with these same special-interest donors — all behind closed doors — forcing hardworking Pennsylvanians to fund generous benefits union leaders demand, all while taxpayers don’t have access to these same health and retirement benefits in the private sector.

Or consider Candidate Wolf “the small business governor.” He takes credit for making it easier for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. A move worthy of praise — if only it were true.

Far from being a friend to small business, Gov. Wolf has sought to impose higher costs on businesses, even supporting policies that would force businesses to lay off workers or close their doors. In 2016, he imposed a 40 percent retroactive tax on vape shops, forcing approximately 100 shops and 100 percent of their employees — or nearly one-third of all these businesses in Pennsylvania — out of business and out of jobs.

Additionally, when recent federal tax cuts helped encourage investment by letting businesses fully deduct new purchases, Wolf’s Department of Revenue passed a rule actively denying Pennsylvania businesses this benefit — something no other governor in America tried to do.

Then, there is Candidate Wolf the “job creator,” who’s made job growth a core of his campaign. But Gov. Wolf’s record is quite different. Pennsylvania continues to lag the nation in job growth while consistently maintaining a higher unemployment rate than most states. The Independent Fiscal Office projected Wolf’s plan to mandate a higher minimum wage would cost 33,000 jobs. Additionally, a separate analysis found Wolf’s attempt to raise the personal income tax from 3.07 percent to more than 3.30 percent would cost the creation of more than 6,500 jobs.

Finally, as a candidate, Wolf has touted his work to combat opioid abuse. Yet, as governor, he vetoed a bill targeting opioid over-prescription after receiving $1.1 million from a group tied to the very lawyers who lobbied against the bill. Soon after Wolf’s veto, this same group gave him another $500,000.

In many ways, Wolf’s slick TV ads present a picture of the governor we wish we had. But it’s not the governor we do have.

Should Wolf’s campaign persona earn him a second term, we hope the governor we get is different from the governor we’ve had the past four years. Because campaign rhetoric may get Wolf through a single 45-minute non-debate and even net an election-night victory, but for all Pennsylvanians to win, we need a governor who works for the people he serves, not for the special interests who fill his campaign coffers and fight reform at every turn.

Matthew Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs.