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Wolf painted himself into a corner, approaches early lame-duck status

| Saturday, April 16, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

HARRISBURG

Pennsylvania's lone-wolf governor overplayed his hand.

Legislative votes on a fiscal code bill last week emerged with veto-proof majorities. It was an ominous sign for Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf.

Democrat lawmakers are beginning to see that their unswerving loyalty to Wolf last year brought them little more than a nine-month budget impasse, school districts running out of money and human services agencies stretched to the max.

A fiscal code bill sounds pretty arcane but it determines how the state can spend money in the state budget. If Wolf persists in past patterns, he could become the first governor in recent history to have a veto overridden. It's more significant potentially as a message to Wolf on the 2016-17 budget. Work on it will get under way in earnest after the April 26 primary.

After last year's fiasco, lawmakers of both parties are hopeful for a timely, if not early, budget.

It's true Republicans were as much to blame as Wolf for the impasse, but there were several opportunities for Wolf to grasp a compromise and settle for a piece — but far from all — of his complex budget proposal. But he kept insisting on a tax increase.

It's equally true that the generally accepted strategy is for a first-year governor to propose four years' worth of programs in hopes of getting a chunk at a time when he has the most political capital.

But Wolf wanted it all. And his all-or-nothing strategy backfired.

The budget went through belatedly without a tax increase. The budget he was forced to sign was a Republican plan without the jacked-up revenue Wolf wanted.

Republicans through the fall believed they might have had a shot at overriding Wolf vetoes. Who knows? But the bitter taste of the budget debacle has worn away at rank-and-file Democrats, who held the line for Wolf day in and day out through the impasse.

If Wolf remains intransigent, he might claim a place in history with a record number of overrides on his vetoes.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, has to free up his members or they'll break anyway. He should let the governor know no more blood will needlessly be spilled.

Wolf's recent stunt of attempting to punish Democrats who voted for the Republican budget was amateurish. Eleven lawmakers signed a letter saying they were told they must go through the governor's office rather than directly to state agencies — in other words, delaying information to thousands of constituents and spinning that information where possible to improve the administration's image.

Wolf's office implied it wasn't true by saying “nothing has changed.”

What, they made it up? Lawmakers said last week the order was rescinded.

It's the kind of action — on top of the budget disaster — that could make Wolf a lame duck for the final 2½ years of his term.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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