We’ve heard a lot of state budget addresses over the years, stretching back to Gov. Dick Thornburgh. They’ve been fairly predictable, as have been the default responses of the opposite party (one party’s “investments” are another’s “taxes” or “giveaways”).
It’s political theater and everyone has his/her role and script, which have grown increasingly rigid.
But when Gov, Tom Wolf delivered his first budget address Tuesday, stressing education, jobs and middle class prosperity, we felt a surge of hope for something different.
Because Wolf spoke like, well, an adult. Also like a throwback to an era when politics was less about theater and the amassing of power, and more a craft and art of compromise.
Wolf said in summation, after repeatedly stressing the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together, have “robust conversation,” listen and find common ground:
“Today, I laid out my plan, and I’m going to fight for it. I recognize that some of you won’t agree with all or parts of it, and I recognize that we’re going to have a robust conversation. That’s how our democracy works.
“But if you don’t agree with my ideas, here is my request: Please come with your own ideas. It’s not good enough to just say no and continue with the same old same old. That’s our responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania. They may have voted for divided government, but they did not vote for gridlock.”
Wolf’s calls for openness and transparency in government, and curbs on accepting gifts were a welcome change as well.
Then everybody fell into his or her default role. Spinners were unleashed with pre-written statements, with Democrats hailing the plan as bold, Republicans as pie in the sky (that was the nicest they could come up with).
Senate Democratic leaders heralded the plan as a “bold, responsible and necessary” plan designed to address issues confronted by middle class families ... so compelling that it will command the full attention of lawmakers.
Republican Party of Pennsylvania Chairman Rob Gleason countered with a statement that the plan “will wreck the family budget of millions of Pennsylvanians.”
“Governor Wolf spent his entire campaign hiding the details of his plan to raise taxes, and now we can see why ...Tom Wolf is making Pennsylvania families shoulder the burden of his liberal campaign promises,” Gleason said.
Most disappointing, however, was the response of Franklin County Sen. Rich Alloway, who referred to Wolf’s message as “blatant political dishonesty.”
“The new taxes and spending are staggering...” he said. And in summary, “taken together with Wolf’s cataclysmic increase in taxes and government spending, this ... is a budget only President Obama could love.”
That malarky is disappointing because we know Alloway to be a thoughtful man who has taken principled stands on occasion. Too bad that as a member of his caucus leadership, he checked his independence at the door Tuesday.
Somehow our elected officials have to get past posturing and pandering — and constituents must stop rewarding and cheering such behavior for the momentary gratification of a take-down for the team.
It’s one thing for Gov. Wolf to be an adult, another to inspire that behavior in others, or shame them into it.
If Wolf can do it, he’ll be a miracle worker.
But nothing will happen without thoughtful lawmakers and legislative leaders setting the party bible aside for the good of all of Pennsylvania and daring to be leaders in a two-way conversation. That’s how Democracy works.
We wonder who’s up to the task.