Gov. Tom Wolf used the first official speech of his second term to not only focus on the accomplishments of the last four years – which said were collective victories – but also to express his hope that more could be achieved “together” during the next four years.
Claiming the state had been at a “crossroads” – a crisis of confidence in state government – when he first took office four years ago, the governor proclaimed during his second inaugural address that Pennsylvanians are no longer “stuck at a crossroads; We have chosen a path of progress. We have earned the right to feel not just proud of our past, but hopeful for our future.”
“We’ve gone from a Commonwealth at a crossroads to a Commonwealth on a comeback,” Wolf said.
“So, let us have faith in each other,” said Wolf closing his speech. “Let us have faith in what we can fix together, what we can achieve together – what we can build together.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Wolf during his first term, which was punctuated by two significant budget impasses (one that lasted nine months, and another that four months), three of four state budgets being late, and plenty of combative disagreements with the Legislature regarding taxes, revenues, spending and policy.
During those four year, Republicans held significant majorities in both the state House of Representatives and Senate, and while Democrats made some inroads in both chambers during the 2018 election cycle, Republicans for the next two years will still hold solid majorities with which Wolf will have to work.
Despite those past difficulties, the governor chose to focus on what he characterized as the positives of the last four years.
He hit on several items: the creation of more than 200,000 new jobs; the improvement of more than 20,000 miles of roadways and restoration of more than 1,900 bridges; $1 billion in additional funding for public schools as well as the enactment of a new school funding formula; school graduation rates are up; pre-K enrollments have increased; a state budget that’s not running a deficit; an expanded Medicaid program covering an additional 720,000 Pennsylvanians; increased enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program so that it now serves 180,000 children; the decline in the state’s uninsured rate; more than 4,200 homeless veterans off the streets and in permanent housing; tens of thousands of seniors and the disabled getting care in their homes; a reduction in the crime rate, with fewer Pennsylvanians in state prison; legalized medical marijuana; a modernized state liquor system; new laws to make our pets safer; pension changes; criminal justice reform; new protections against domestic violence; and even a gun safety law.
Wolf said that while the challenges the state faced four years ago seemed insurmountable, “we’ve proven that those problems really aren’t insurmountable,” though he noted there are still plenty of challenges ahead.
The governor didn’t get too specific with goals for the next four years, instead choosing to urge everyone to work together to continue to build on past accomplishments.
“… as we look forward to the next four years, I want us to be ambitious in imagining the Pennsylvania we can build together,” said Wolf, suggesting a state “where we continue to invest in our schools, where we continue to rebuild our infrastructure, where we continue to lead in research and development, where we continue to prioritize opportunity and prosperity for all of our communities and all of our children.”
He said he doesn’t want Pennsylvania to “wait around for Amazon to move here” and instead build the next Amazon.
The governor also stated he wants a more understanding and compassionate commonwealth “where we don’t just have enough to take care of our own, but enough to take care of each other.”
“Where people living in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh understand the importance of our agricultural sector and the needs of our rural communities. Where people living in Tioga County appreciate the power of our world class cities. Where the business community recognizes the value of an energy policy that protects our environment while it creates good jobs. Where we attack the opioid crisis that has taken so much from so many families,” said Wolf.
He did get a bit more detailed when stressing the ideas of “fairness” and “tolerance,” mentioning the “reform a criminal justice system that treats African Americans and the poor unjustly; where we stand as one to stop discrimination against the LGBTQ community, where we commit to a process that makes our elections fairer and, where we give every Pennsylvanian the same chance to determine our shared future.”
Keeping with the many themes, Wolf spoke about the deadly October shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and how the response to that tragedy is what he would like to see more of every day in Pennsylvania.
“… in that moment, we weren’t Republicans or Democrats. And, for that matter, they weren’t legislative leaders and I wasn’t the Governor,” said Wolf of the day of the shooting. “We were just like everyone else, feeling helpless and heartbroken.”
“But in the days that followed, the people of Pennsylvania lifted us all up,” the governor continued, citing several examples of actions by law enforcement, the religious community and the general public.
“We all came together. We all did what we could. We all leaned on each other. We all found the strength to carry on,” said Wolf.
“That’s who we are …. and that’s the Pennsylvania we should all want”