Gov. Wolf's first budget

This piece first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 3, 2015.

What should Pennsylvanians expect from Gov. Wolf when he presents his first budget Tuesday? What does he need to accomplish with this address?

Rooney: Gov. Wolf has already done things in very different ways than those who have served before him. That's not to disparage anybody. It's just that this governor, by necessity and genetics, doesn't leave room for a whole lot of ambiguity.

He has already started to engage the legislature in very real and personal ways. By the end of last week, all 253 legislators will have had some form of contact with the new governor. I can tell you just from my own personal experiences, there are some people who will go eight years and never have the kind of contact with a governor that Gov. Wolf has already established.

So now the governor needs to build on this personal, transparent, straightforward approach that he's taken to governing.

Novak: A budget address sets forth a plan and sets priorities and agendas, but it also sets a tone that either enhances or inhibits the spirit of cooperation necessary to start to achieve those goals.

I see this budget address as this governor's chance to begin again. At the inaugural, we heard a very good speech about bipartisanship and then saw some actions related to appointments - like Erik Arneson at the Office of Open Records - that didn't match up. I always think of leadership as aligning your words with your actions. That kind of theoretical thought is much harder to put into action in a divided government, but I also think this governor has the chance to build on the words of bipartisanship more than any other governor before him, starting with a budget blueprint that at least shows there's room to work together to get some of these things done to benefit Pennsylvania.

Rooney: There is a very delicate balance and tone the governor needs to strike. Nobody should get chafed when the governor lays out his agenda. That is an inherently partisan endeavor.

The governor will articulate his vision and how he intends to get there. But in doing so, he is likely to strike some notes that are going to be discordant with some Republicans. That's OK. The Republicans will push back and criticize much of what the governor puts before them. And that's OK. Where I think this will be different is that this governor isn't going to allow it to get personal.

Novak: What makes Gov. Wolf intriguing is the fact that he comes from a business background. The key here is going to be if he makes the approach - not philosophically, not ideologically - but as a pragmatic businessman looking to identify our problems in the right priority and solve them.

The number-one problem in Pennsylvania is pensions. Leading with pensions pragmatically as a business person is what people want to see. Other governors have led ideologically and then go to pragmatism. I think that being pragmatic and leading pragmatically, that's different.

Rooney: The notion of pragmatism in the legislature will sound like the most counterintuitive thing ever spoken. This is the governor's first rodeo and it really does set a tone. His business background suggests that the governor's process is going to be different. It is difficult to lead a legislative body to the water and get them to drink, but in this case, with this governor who doesn't play to the usual political script, I think he is well-positioned to take advantage of this unique, if tricky, opportunity.

Novak: He should never stray from the theme: "I want to work with you, despite our differences." He needs to never let it get personal or ideological. He needs to stick with the theme of pragmatically solving Pennsylvania's problems for the taxpayers. That resonates with people. A friend of mine told me recently that the political show is getting old. Making sure the show doesn't get old in Pennsylvania is going to be the challenge.

Rooney: The show is old in Pennsylvania! The people who drive the debate in Harrisburg and Washington are oftentimes the people who are the loudest voices and come from the most extreme sides of an issue, be it left or right.

By virtue of necessity, there is going to need to be compromise - the kind that is going to bend people on the ideological extremes of each party. This is going to be the governor's true test of leadership.

The good news is that most Pennsylvanians live in the middle. I think you are going to see the governor articulate an agenda that is steeped in what we have come to know as Pennsylvania values - things that are not over the top, but things that are achievable - things that can get done.

Novak: Even when times and emotions seem most difficult, the best advice is never make it personal; never take it personal. In words and in action, Gov. Wolf should never stray from the message: "We are going to work together and we are going to get it done."

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T.J. Rooney

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