HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — After two terms in office, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is reflecting on his years in public service.
From an unprecedented health crisis and criticism over lockdowns, to historic budget surpluses and praise over fiscal responsibility- it’s hard to find a dull moment during his time as governor.
ErieNewsNow State Capitol Correspondent, Brendan Scanland, sat down with the outgoing Democratic governor to recap his time leading the commonwealth in an ErieNewsNow three-part special interview.
Brendan: All right Governor, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to sit down and sort of recap these past eight years. We really appreciate it.
There’s so much that’s happened over the last eight years. If you had to summarize your top three proudest accomplishments as governor, what would those top three accomplishments be?
Gov. Wolf: They’re three broad categories of things that I’m really proud of. The first thing is integrity. The first thing I did was establish the gift ban, and the competitive bidding for legal contracts and a whole lot of other things. So, I’m very proud of the general honesty and integrity. Second thing is, I think we’ve done some really good things with good investments in making lives better for Pennsylvanians where they live, like in education. I ran to make education funding better, fairer, more adequate for Pennsylvania, and I think I have done that. And reduced the uninsured rate in Pennsylvania to its lowest ever. So those kinds of things, I’m very proud of, the policies that invested or have been really good for Pennsylvanians. And the final thing is that I think we’ve done this in a very competent way, fiscally responsible. So, when I got here, we had $230,000 in our budget reserve. We now have $5 billion. And we had a structural budget deficit of 2 to $3 billion each year. This budget has a $5.3 billion surplus baked into it, and we’re running ahead of that as of the end of November.
Brendan: What would you say your single happiest and your single toughest moments would be in the last eight years?
Gov. Wolf: Well, toughest obviously, we went through COVID. I mean, that was that was really tough, painful for so many people all across the commonwealth. And it was just tough trying to do the right thing. I didn’t want to play politics, I wanted to make sure that I was doing what I thought was best for the public health. But you just never know. And so, I tried, and that was tough. The happiest moments were the times when we, you know, got success with things like education and you could look kids in the eye and see that their teachers were actually teaching them with resources that they might not have had a few years ago. Those were the happy moments.
Brendan: You talk a little bit about the pandemic, obviously a major challenge for all of Pennsylvania. When you look at the different shutdowns and lockdowns, the impacts they had on small businesses, especially restaurants and on mental health in younger adults, teenagers, especially students. Did Pennsylvania go too far with its COVID response?
Gov. Wolf: I don’t think so. I mean, that question will be asked, and should be asked as to whether we should have done things differently than we did. And I think every state, every country in the world is asking that of themselves right now. When you look at the performance in terms of were our health systems overwhelmed, they weren’t. Did we actually provide support like $225 million for the health care industry to help them cope with the strains of this, those are things that I think we did right, or the things that we did or didn’t do that we could have done, we actually had money that went into the restaurant industry recognizing the challenges that they faced. Was it enough? I don’t know. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have gone through the pandemic, but we did. And what we had to do is figure out the best way to muddle through with what we had. And it was tough on everybody.
Brendan: Is there anything specifically that you think, looking back, could have, or maybe should have been done differently?
Gov. Wolf: I will be asking myself that for the rest of my life. I don’t know. The things that we learned, where I learned that I maybe overstepped or made a mistake. There are plenty of people here to tell me that maybe you shouldn’t be doing that, or should do something else. If we made a mistake in a public policy that actually was harmful in one area, tried to find the resources to actually address that directly. So, I tried to do this, what was best from balancing the competing needs of a public health crisis and the economic consequences of that public health crisis and without playing politics, tried to do the best I could.