Everything is on the line for Gov. Tom Wolf in his 2018 budget address. After all, he’s up for re-election. That means every single word of his speech will be painfully examined and re-examined by his team of political spin doctors. And then they’ll examine it again.

It doesn’t have to be that hard.

In fact, Gov. Wolf should just call Gov. Ed Rendell and ask him if he could borrow his 2006 state budget address (I Googled it). Their circumstances are similar – Democratic governors who fought hard with a Republican-controlled General Assembly and now need to play nice in a re-election year.

Just think back to Gov. Rendell’s first term in office. I still have a coffee mug with his picture and this quote he made about Republicans in 2004: “THEY’RE COWARDS. …Everyone is afraid. If tomorrow we could cure cancer if they raised taxes, they wouldn’t raise them.” (To this day, it’s my favorite mug.)

Two years later it was time for his re-election, and his speech to those same Republicans had a very different tone.

On the first page of his speech: “It is remarkable how much we have accomplished together. In three short years, we have tackled extraordinarily difficult issues… I am very proud of the fact that, despite our differences and honest disagreements, we all take very seriously our duty to enact the very best budget we can for Pennsylvania.”

You get the point.

Wolf’s track record is his greatest liability. Indeed, regardless of who secures the GOP nomination Rendell would praise their teamwork on the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), providing affordable prescription drugs to seniors and creating jobs – items Wolf can point to, as well.

Rendell then embraced a key GOP issue – public safety – calling for the additional hiring of more state troopers. Interestingly, Rendell mentioned the ravages of methamphetamine addiction as reason to hire more troopers. Now, 12 years later, Wolf has made a war against opioids a centerpiece of his administration.

Wolf also can follow Rendell’s 2006 speech when he spoke to taxpayers and his base by pointing out that he’s rooted out waste in the executive branch. (By the way, how does every governor find a billion dollars in wasteful spending?) and call for an increase in the minimum wage.

Most important, Rendell told a room full of Republicans that his budget proposal would increase funding for public education but wouldn’t require any tax increases – a departure from his first three budget battles (wink, wink, Gov. Wolf).

Gov. Wolf should embrace the 2006 Rendell vintage because his term began much the same way – determined to stick up (and stick it) to battle-tested Republican leaders in the House and Senate who have no problem waiting out a governor in a protracted budget battle.

A severance tax on natural gas drillers is still the best way to help balance the state budget.

After an historic nine-month budget battle in his first year that saw the governor veto a budget, pension reform legislation and a stopgap budget, the normally sedate Wolf signaled he was ready for a brawl in his second budget address with some very Rendellian rhetoric: “…If you won’t take seriously your responsibility to the people of Pennsylvania, then find another job.” (Why hasn’t this earned its own coffee mug?)

Make no mistake, Gov. Wolf doesn’t need a protracted budget battle, and as important, neither do Republicans. With GOP members perhaps vulnerable in the Southeast and Southwest in what is shaping up as a year for Democrats, everyone wants to do a budget on time in which they can all share credit. It’s the Facebook equivalent of finding their #HappyPlace.

So, tell your team to take it easy, governor. Relax. Take a look at that 2006 Rendell speech. As the old saying goes (especially in Pennsylvania state government politics), the more things change…

Posted on