8:57 PM / Sunday November 27, 2022

25 Dec 2014

The Age of Tom Wolf

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
December 25, 2014 Category: Commentary Posted by:


By G. Terry Madonna & Michael L.Young

It’s not often that someone’s greatest wish and worst nightmare occur at the same time, but for Governor-elect Tom Wolf both are fated to occur the same day, hour and minute. January 20th, 2015 will witness the swearing in of the state’s new governor. For Wolf, the day will mark the culmination of a decade’s long quest for the office but also the beginning of a series of seemingly insuperable challenges – greater than faced by any new governor in modern times. 

Pennsylvania, as the Age of Wolf begins, faces a witch’s brew of political, cultural, and fiscal crisis that will test Wolf from his first day in office. Any one of them might occupy a new governor’s agenda for most of his term. Wolf has to deal with all of them – and as the short, sad tenure of Tom Corbett showed – the clock is ticking for him even as he prepares to be inaugurated. It will only tick louder as time goes on. 

Here is a short, but hardly sweet compilation of Wolf’s early to do list.   

THE FISCAL CRISIS – The state has a $2 billion structural deficit going into 2015, but that’s only the beginning of it. There is also a growing pension debt that is estimated to be around $60 billion dollars, as well as a state and local revenue system (taxes) that was outdated in the last century. Pennsylvania’s fiscal mess is the consequence of decades of state politicians kicking the fiscal can down the road, seeking short term solutions to long term problems, and choosing good politics over good policy time after time. This state and most others have deficits and fiscal challenges from time to time but this one is not typical. It’s a “structural deficit” meaning the state has a permanent revenue shortfall unless spending is massively reduced or taxes are raised. This is the stark dilemma that faces Wolf on January 20th. It is easily the most intractable financial problem the state has faced since the early 1970’s.


THE LEGISLATURE – Wolf’s partner – or adversary – in tackling the deficit is the state legislature. But this is not your grandfather’s legislature – not even your great grandfather’s legislature. The ladies and gentlemen of Pennsylvania’s House and Senate are a different breed of lawmaker, perhaps last seen in Pennsylvania in antibellum times. Until now, the state legislature was a place of barter and trade, of carrots and sticks, with legislative leaders that got a little, gave a little, and made it all come out in the end – routine tactics used to obtain votes and to get legislation passed.

But that has changed following the infamous pay hike of 2005 that brought 54 new members to the state legislature, reinforced by the Tea Party 2010 election cycle that similarly caused a large turnover. The new lawmakers have been far more resistant to the old tactics, far less inclined to compromise, and far more reluctant to being led. They are conservative, Republican, ideological and sometimes fractious. This is the legislature Republican Tom Corbett could not deal with. It is the legislature Democrat Tom Wolf must deal with. 


IDEOLOGICAL POLITICS – Wolf takes office amidst an era of unprecedented polarization and partisanship, not unlike that infusing our national politics and just as likely to paralyze problem solving and policy-making. Pennsylvania has had divided government before, but this is something new. It is instead “divisive government” in which almost every major issue is framed in black and white ideological terms. The great problem with ideological politics both at state and national levels is that our system of checks and balances and separation of powers don’t work well in an environment in which every compromise is a craven sellout, every bargain a corrupt bargain. The result at the national level has been gridlock and inertia. Will the results at the equally polarized state level be different?  Somehow Wolf must find a way to do what Washington politicians of both parties have failed to do – carve out the common ground among our ideological warriors that will allow the state to tackle and solve its growing list of chronic problems. 

THE VOTERS – The electorate is often the overlooked component of the Pennsylvania political puzzle. It was the voters who gave Tom Wolf his chance by deciding his predecessor had run out of chances. But it is an electorate that does not always know its own mind and whose views are going through a big change. It elected Wolf but it nevertheless increased GOP control over the legislature, while the congressional delegation remains solidly Republican, certainly due in part to gerrymandering. Still, it’s an electorate in transition, but transition to where is unclear. The great cultural issues that once defined state elections are in flux.

Pennsylvania voters now support gay marriage, a state law making it illegal to discriminate against gays in housing and employment, and medical marijuana. It’s an electorate not greatly excited by either the conservative agenda or its liberal counterpart. It trusts government very little while paradoxically expecting government to work. At the center of these contradictions is the traditional Pennsylvania moderate, neither fiercely ideological nor partisan, but more pragmatic, politically centrist, and interested in solving problems, and certainly in getting results.  Increasingly, it will be looking to Tom Wolf for those results.

Politically Uncorrected is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2013 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News


Lots of love and laughter as friends, family and loved ones gather at Positano Coast to celebrate Leah Fletcher

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email Looking in retrospect. Celebrating Leah Fletcher By Monica Peters Sixty persons from near...


Mexico prosecutors issue arrest warrant, want U.S. suspect extradited to Mexico in death of Shanquella Robinson

November 25, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (AP/SUN) — Mexican prosecutors have filed charges against a...

Week In Review

Biden admin to ask high court to take up student debt plan

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill...


Georgia runoff: Why one Senate seat is crucial for Democrats

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: This combination of photos shows, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaking to...


How to shop for the right Medicare plan and avoid costly mistakes

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Inflation is putting the squeeze on all Americans, but no one is...

Color Of Money

Top financial to-dos to end the year strong and prepare for 2023

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT  The holidays are a time full of good cheer, but not necessarily...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff