Governor Tom Wolf recently delivered his eighth and final state budget address continuing an unbroken streak of proposals laced with fiscal fantasy. He envisions a 16.6% increase in state spending – totaling nearly $3 billion above projected revenue.
The budget speech marked the beginning of the lame duck governor’s efforts to frame what he believes to be his legacy. To that end Wolf has proposed yet another massive increase in state education spending to go along with the hefty annual increases that according to at least one recent report have yielded no improvement in student academic achievement.
Charles Mitchell of the Commonwealth Foundation recently pointed out that during his budget address “Governor Wolf took credit for shoring up the state’s Rainy Day fund, balancing the budget without raising taxes, public pension reform, putting wine in grocery stores, and potentially leaving a surplus to his successor.” Mitchell correctly noted: “These materialized not because of Wolf’s leadership, but despite his opposition.”
The governor’s true legacy will be none of those things. Wolf’s legacy will be framed by his handling – or mishandling – of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that legacy is one of ineptitude that inflicted economic suffering and, tragically, death upon the people of Penn’s Woods.
Early in the pandemic Pennsylvania was one of a number of states that implemented a policy of returning patients still suffering from COVID-19 infections into nursing and personal care homes. The result: in the first months of the pandemic nearly 70% of deaths caused by the virus occurred in such facilities.
In an ABC 27 News report State Senator John Yudichak of Luzerne County termed the situation at nursing homes: “A tragedy of Shakespearean proportion and it begs, begs for accountability.” Unfortunately, neither Tom Wolf nor his complicit former Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who conveniently moved her own mother out of a personal care home at the start of the pandemic, have been held accountable.
Blame politics for that lack of accountability. In New York, where former Governor Andrew Cuomo pursued the same fatally flawed policies as did Tom Wolf the state’s Attorney General, Letitia James, did conduct an investigation. No such investigation has occurred in Pennsylvania where holding accountable a governor his own party would have negatively impacted Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s own campaign for governor.
Tom Wolf’s legacy also bears the stain of killing tens of thousands of businesses through draconian shut-down orders and restrictions. His closing of so-called “non-essential” businesses resulted in mass chaos. In typical fashion the governor failed to consult with the business community, issuing orders with no advance notice and then constantly changed the metrics required for re-opening.
The result was a wave of business failures and a historic spike in unemployment. The problem was compounded by the inability of the state Labor Department to efficiently process unemployment claims – a problem that persists two years later.
Wolf appeared to relish the power. He repeatedly declared the commonwealth to be in a state of emergency utilizing a law basically designed to give governors the ability to deal with natural disasters. He assumed the power to by-pass the state legislature and to govern by executive order and regulatory fiat. An activist state Supreme Court effectively re-wrote the law and allowed the governor to continue implementing draconian and ultimately ineffective measures.
Finally, in May of 2021 “We the People” had enough. Fed up with Tom Wolf’s abuse of power voters approved two state constitutional amendments that placed limits on the use of emergency power declarations and gave the General Assembly the clear power to end such orders. It was an unprecedented rebuke of an autocratic governor whose lust for power had gone too far.
But, having drunk from the cup of unfettered power Wolf continued issuing orders. After first saying school districts should set their own mask policies he reversed course and had his health department issue an order requiring students in public schools to wear masks. At that point even Wolf’s allies at the state Supreme Court gave up and ruled he did not have the power to issue such an order.
Blue state governors across the nation are beginning to rescind their draconian COVID-19 policies as polling shows the public is rebelling and the issue is now impacting Democratic hopes for the upcoming mid-term elections. So governors like Tom Wolf are looking to change the focus away from the pandemic.
But don’t be fooled. Tom Wolf can talk about education funding all he wants, but his true legacy is a deadly, destructive epic failure to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly American Radio Journal and Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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