Apr 9, 2020
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf Coronavirus Briefing Transcript April 9: Schools Closing for Academic Year
Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf held a COVID-19 press conference today, April 9. He announced the closure of Pennsylvania schools for the rest of the academic year. Full transcript is here.
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Tom Wolf: (00:14)
Thank you. Here? Okay. Well thank you sir. It’s really nice to be here and I appreciate the invitation. This is a great honor for me and thank you all for coming here. What I wanted to talk about is how we progressives can win the argument and the election in 2020. In their most recent book, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson suggested that nations with healthy social, political, and economic norms occupy an historically narrow corridor, bordered on both sides by nations that do not have those healthy norms and behaviors. On the one side are the [inaudible 00:00:54] states with authoritarian regimes. And in those states, possibly after a brief phase of euphoria and hope, oppression is the political norm. Economic interactions are quashed by bureaucratic restraints and social relations are dulled by enemy, alienation, a pervasive lack of hope, and sometimes even fear. One thinks of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Salazar’s Portugal, or Kim Jong Un’s North Korea.
Tom Wolf: (01:25)
On the other side of this narrow corridor lie the equally dysfunctional nations with an almost Hobbesian lack of any order at all. Economic interactions are discouraged by things like a lack of reasonable regulations, fair conventions, or consistent laws, the scarcity of basic public goods, like a legal system, transportation or communications infrastructure. And except for a few and often restrictive habits and norms, the lack of social traditions capable of sustaining the basic requirements of life within the narrow corridor, those don’t exist. Northwest Pakistan, much of modern day Afghanistan, large swaths of modern Sudan are exemplars of the nations on this side of the narrow corridor.
Tom Wolf: (02:08)
The point Acemoglu and Robinson make is that states within this corridor are those that are neither authoritarian nor anarchic. Instead, they countenance … again, the ones … the states within this corridor, they countenance and even encourage competition, innovation, creative destruction, heterodoxy, and even at times, disruption, while at the same time they maintain enough predictability, order and stability to allow their citizens to lead lives of opportunity, hope, and optimism.
Tom Wolf: (02:38)
Their book presents a good heuristic model for the ideal state, but the book does not, however, offer any theory as to precisely how that ideal state might be achieved. So in the next few minutes, I’d like to suggest such a theory. I’m going to argue that implementing the progressive agenda is the surest route to an existence within that narrow corridor. I’m going to acknowledge, on the other hand, that implementing the progressive agenda is a Herculean challenge. I’ll suggest, nevertheless, that it is possible. Moreover, I will argue that failure to implement it will lead to a dark future that keeps us outside of Acemoglu’s and Robinson’s narrow corridor.
Tom Wolf: (03:17)
So first, let me start with a little background about myself. I’m governor of Pennsylvania and I’m a progressive Democrat. Pennsylvania is an Eastern state. I know all of you saw that it was a Midwestern state. It’s an Eastern state. We were one of the original 13 colonies, but we are wedged between our better known neighbor to the North, New York State, and its internationally famous neighbor to the South, Washington DC. But on its own, Pennsylvania is a big deal. Its GDP in 2018 with $789 billion, which would make it one of the largest economies in the world if it were an independent country. Pennsylvania has two world-class cities, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. And much that has happened in the political, social, and economic history of the United States is actually run through Pennsylvania. It’s a crucial state in any national election because it’s big and because it can be changed. In the 2016 presidential election, as you all know, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania. He won it by 44,000 votes. In 2018, two years later, I won my reelection race for governor by 750,000 votes.
Tom Wolf: (04:26)
So in the next few minutes I want to talk about what I think we progressives need to do, based on my experience, to win in places like Pennsylvania. And in many ways, Pennsylvania is a good place to model political behaviors and outcomes. It’s a large urban and suburban state. It has a big urban and suburban population, and in Pennsylvania those populations look much like the suburban and urban populations around the country. Its rural population in Pennsylvania has one of the largest rural populations in the United States, acts and votes much like the rural populations in other part of the country. So convincing Pennsylvania of the virtues of the progressive agenda is most likely what it’s going to take to convince the broader US population of its virtues. In other words, if we can sell Pennsylvania on progressivism, we can sell anybody.
Tom Wolf: (05:15)
Still, it’s going to be hard. While we progressives have tried to win the argument amongst ourselves as to which shade of progressivism is most worthy, we actually lost the argument with the people we fervently believe that progressive agenda can help the most. What’s more, we’ve lost the argument to those who are peddling in the very policies that we believe will hurt the people to whom they’re appealing.
Tom Wolf: (05:38)
I come to this task as indeed I came to politics five years ago, with a very unique perspective. And that perspective is founded on three distinct strands in my professional life. I have spent time as an academic. I’ve spent time as a business owner. And for the last five years, again, I’ve been a politician. The first two experiences have informed the last. Because of them. I appreciate the need to invest the design of any product or service or idea with intellectual rigor, but these experiences have also led me to understand that this product, service, or idea must also be capable of being sold.
Tom Wolf: (06:17)
A product, service or idea that is the result of sloppy thinking is not going to do anyone any good, but neither is a great product, service, or idea that no one needs, no one can sell, or no one wants to buy. It reminds me of when I used to sell roofing products. When I started in business in the United States, there were three grades of shingles. Bear with me here. The least expensive was … and this is when I started, this is different now, but when I started there was … the least expensive came with a 15 year guarantee. The next most expensive came with a 20 year guarantee, and the third and most expensive per hundred square feet of coverage came with a 25 year guarantee. Now selling these … bear with me, selling these on first [inaudible 00:07:01] was really easy. You sold on price. In other words, you pushed the 15 year shingles. And anytime you advertised this in the newspaper or wherever, you advertised the 15 year shingle because that was the price point.
Tom Wolf: (07:13)
And in some cases, for example, where a homeowner had a short time horizon, the cheapest product actually was the most appropriate product. But in most cases, it turned out the best deal was in the more expensive lines because on a cost per a hundred square feet per year basis, they were the least expensive. This was because on a cost per year basis, the more expensive shingles were actually less expensive per year, the 25 years. But it was also because installing 15 year old shingles, if you were to live in the house for more than 15 years, meant that you were going to have to change … put a new roof on at least some point in the middle of that time that you were living in the house. So the key was to make sure through good questions, some probing, and ultimately an appeal to reason and self interest, that you were connecting the customer to the shingle that she really needed.
Tom Wolf: (08:04)
The same is true of the progressive agenda. We have a superior set of policy ideas for anyone thinking in the long run. The problem is that we’re not doing a very good job of convincing the electorate that these ideas are in fact superior. The other side is having a field day, selling the electorate on ideas that, while they’re clearly seductive, aren’t going to do them much good. We’re selling 15 year shingles to an electorate that’s going to stay in their house for more than 25 years. Instead of promoting policies that would make democracy and the free market work, for example, they pedal flashy ideas based on things like division, hatred, exclusion, and xenophobia that won’t do anything but speed our journey out of the narrow corridor and make the lives of most Americans much worse.
Tom Wolf: (08:51)
They promote things like gerrymandering that allows those same politicians figure out who their constituents are going to be. They sell voter suppression techniques to keep people who might not support them from voting. They push for policies that lead to the maldistribution of wealth, which distorts market behavior and thwarts opportunity. They suppress competition by allowing the market to be increasingly dominated by a smaller and smaller list of bigger and bigger corporations. They sell shoddy products and they sell them on price. We constantly miss the chance to upsell our fellow citizens on the progressive agenda, and that’s a problem. So how should we approach this upsell opportunity?
Tom Wolf: (09:32)
There are five things we ought to do, and let me start with the first of these, which is the agenda itself. That agenda has a lot of good features and benefits. The progressive agenda promotes a level playing field through non-discrimination policies aimed at countering behaviors and eliminating laws that exclude people. The same is true of the progressive agenda when we think about the other things that go into progressive agenda, specifically promotes policies that ensure that women are free to make their own healthcare decisions.
Tom Wolf: (10:05)
It calls for economic policies that increase competitiveness and strong antitrust laws, that set appropriate minimum wages that ensure workplace safety and facilitate market integration. It calls for policies and erects institutions that protect workers’ rights to organize. It encompasses immigration policies that allow for workforce growth. The progressive agenda includes tax policies that encourage innovation and work and at the same time discouraged distortions in the distribution of income and wealth, for example, through progressive income taxes and steeply progressive inheritance taxes. The progressive agenda encourages political fairness by promoting fair and free elections, accessible citizenship, fair voting maps, campaign finance reform, and other measures of public integrity.
Tom Wolf: (10:52)
The progressive agenda includes policies that ensure judicial fairness and things like incarceration, probation, bail and market fairness. For example, consumer protection laws and truth in advertising. The progressive agenda recognizes the need for public goods a functional society and a dynamic economy needs, like a strong and effective accessible education system, one that provides citizens at all ages with the skills they need and the knowledge they need that’s relevant to a 21st century economy, and one that is equitably and adequately funded.
Tom Wolf: (11:26)
It also includes the kinds of connective tissue and modern political economy that a healthy society requires, like good transportation, including mass transit, robust communications, and clean and abundant power. The progressive agenda works to ensure environmental justice through appropriate regulations and appropriate externality pricing. It offers a reasonable social safety net, including universal healthcare and free childcare, and it encourages family friendly policies in workplace. The goal must be to ensure that the political agenda contains the policies that places us squarely in that narrow corridor. I would argue that the progressive agenda does just that.
Tom Wolf: (12:05)
The second element of the progressive agenda, the sales strategy, has to do with confidence. We progressives, [inaudible 00:12:12] progessives must be confident that these policies are not only morally right … they are, but that they’re also practically smart, that the electorate actually needs the 25 year shingles. My background has led me to understand that progressive policies really do improve the quality of life for a nation, and this gives me an extra edge and promoting these policies.
Tom Wolf: (12:34)
For example, most progressives in the United States spent a great deal of time proposing various schemes aimed at giving Americans fuller access to healthcare. I support universal healthcare, not simply because it’s morally right, but because offering it would make my life better along with the lives of almost all other Americans. I know this because of something that happened to me at my company. A number of years ago, I was walking through one of my facilities when an employee came screaming up to me in a forklift. He jumped off the vehicle and poked me in the chest with his finger and said, “I hate our health insurance policy.”
Tom Wolf: (13:13)
So as you know, health insurance in the United States is for the most part provided by employers. The United States does not have a national health plan unless you consider the emergency room a health plan. Our company policy was actually among the best. Our health insurance program was free to all employees, it provided full family coverage, gave our employees the option of getting their healthcare from any place of their choosing. So I was puzzled. I said, “All right, I’m game. What is it you don’t like about our health insurance program?” And he started laughing. He said, “Nothing.” He said, “It’s a great plan, and that’s the problem. I’m 49 years old. I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my career.” So I said, “You don’t have to.” I said, “We have a free training program that you can … actually, you’re forced to be part of, and you can change your career track.” He said, ” It wouldn’t work. I don’t want to stay in this industry.” So I …
Tom Wolf: (14:03)
… I laughed. I said, “There’s not much I can do then, but for my own edification, what do you want to do?” He said, “I’d like to be a furniture maker.” So, I said, “Well, why don’t you do that?” He said, “Because I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to get health insurance. I have two children, and I can’t afford to risk going without health insurance for a period during which one of them might need serious healthcare.” So as a result of the insecurity caused by lack of access to healthcare, he was doing something he didn’t want to do. I had an employee who wasn’t happy doing what he was doing, and all of us were out maybe a good set of furniture.
Tom Wolf: (14:43)
It’s called job lock, and it’s a problem that affects millions and millions of Americans, who are trapped in their jobs simply because of the health insurance policy they’re offered where they work. It directly affects millions of Americans, but it diminishes all of our lives. How many jobs, how many new products have we gone without as a result of this job lock, all for the want of universal health care? This makes no practical sense for anybody, not for the employee, not for the employer directly affected, but not for the rest of us, who suffer the underperformance of our economic system because of job lock.
Tom Wolf: (15:19)
The same is true for many other public policies seemed intrusive by some, but things that would make the market and our democracy work better. For example, non-discrimination would increase the pool of talent for companies looking for good employees. Reproductive choice gives women the ability to participate freely and fully in the social, economic and political world that would benefit from that participation. A level playing field would encourage more people to compete in the market economy, make it much more dynamic. Criminal justice reform would increase the number of people entering the workforce. The list goes on, and on, and on.
Tom Wolf: (15:54)
The point is that these are all things that wouldn’t just make things better for a small group of people arbitrarily privileged because of some accident of birth. They would make things better for almost everyone. That’s the truth. And while the truth is not a sufficient condition for convincing voters of the worth of a public policy, it certainly is a necessary one. We, who promote such policies, should take comfort in that truth. It just might help us do a better job of selling the progressive agenda.
Tom Wolf: (16:22)
Third, we must recognize the centrality of human agency in any effort to promote the progressive agenda. Much of the alienation people feel today stems from the suspicion that they simply don’t matter. The goal should be to remind ourselves that while we may labor under a host of inherited habits and norms, nothing in life is in fact written. The historian, Jill Lepore, makes this point in an article about the broad debate back in the 1930s over the feet of democracy back in those perilous times. She cites the Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, who lamented the fact that too often debates like these tended to ignore the centrality of human action. These were just givens. He called them “meteorological questions.” “What Croce was saying,” Lepore suggests, “was that political problems are not external forces beyond our control. They are forces within our control.” She’s right and so was Croce. The progressive agenda should rest on this important assumption. It should unambiguously acknowledge that humans are at the heart of the design and running of the institutions they erect to make their lives better, and those institutions are agents of the change we constantly need.
Tom Wolf: (17:34)
This is especially true when it comes to government intervening in the free market. The truth is that the free market is anything but free. It is anything but a naturally occurring phenomenon, a creature of invisible hands, or self-adjusting equilibria. It’s instead a social and political construct, the product of conscious human actions that establish the rules and conventions that define it. Fair and competitive political and economic systems do not emerge out of a passive governance structure. They emerge as the result of active government and conscious human actions. That is what it will take to establish and maintain the rules we need for engaging, exchanging, living, and competing with each other forth.
Tom Wolf: (18:16)
Fourth, the progressive agenda needs to recognize that the context in which policies are designed and implemented is global. Thus, policies which were formerly premised on an autonomous state must now assume that nations and regions are interdependent. For example, environmental policies must recognize the fact that neither our air, nor our water, nor climate recognize national boundaries. Domestic immigration policy cannot ignore the forces in foreign countries that are impelling people to uproot themselves and migrate. Economic drivers like interest rates are increasingly set by global forces that render national central banks irrelevant, and whether we like it or not, markets are becoming larger, more integrated, and more interdependent. All of these things call for a progressive agenda that makes these new global realities both comprehensible and acceptable to the domestic audiences to whom that agenda must inevitably appeal.
Tom Wolf: (19:12)
Finally, this agenda must start as any political and economic agenda must start with proponents whom people trust. The purveyors of ideas will not be able to convince people who do not trust those purveyors. In my reelection, for example, many people who had voted for Donald Trump in 2016 voted for me in 2018. I was puzzled by this and so was my campaign team. We did not want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but we were not at all sure why a Trump voter would turn around and support someone who has been labeled the most liberal governor in the United States. We sought the answers through focus groups and surveys. What we found was that many voters in Pennsylvania were willing to give me a pass on my progressive political views because they trusted me. Trust matters. It invests a politician, and a political, and economic system with the kind of legitimacy that a dynamic, ever-changing system needs.
Tom Wolf: (20:07)
The point of all this is that ensuring that we stay in that narrow corridor described by Acemoglu and Robinson involves reconciling the competing demands that for constant [inaudible 00:20:18] and innovation on the one hand with the human yearning for peace, stability, and hope on the other. It’s a narrow corridor. In effect, we need to invest our systems with the attributes that allow us to stay within that narrow corridor. These attributes grow out of policies that make political and economic systems fair, freer, and more accountable. Those attributes are reinforced by people who understand the practical import of the policies and ideas they are promoting.
Tom Wolf: (20:43)
Those attributes are enabled by a political and economic process that encompasses human agency and an active government. Those attributes are more likely to exist in a nation that recognizes the global context of the policymaking process. Those attributes depend for their existence on the presence of public servants whom citizens actually trust. That selling people on the long term benefits of remaining in the narrow corridor when the alternative appeals to resentment, anger, or bigotry, or so seductive. This is going to be very difficult. We can’t deny that.
Tom Wolf: (21:17)
We live in an age when too many people seem determined to vote persistently against their self interest. Tom Frank did a masterful job of exposing this problem in his book a long time ago called, What’s the Matter with Kansas? Some like Nicholas Kristof suggest that voters are not so much attracted by the rantings of modern day political hucksters as they are turned off by what they see as the arrogance of so many progressives. Others like Ta-Nehisi Coates suggest that vile instincts like racism are so deeply embedded in so many people that vile messages actually resonate. Nor does it help that the progressive message, no matter how closely it homes to the truth, can be very complicated. It is indeed a hard sell.
Tom Wolf: (21:57)
On the other hand, again, we have the truth, and that’s not a bad place to start. The truth is that hatred, resentment, and division are not the foundations of a good society, the healthy economy, or a good life for anyone. The truth is that messy, muddled, diverse, contingent, and free political, social, and economic systems are. The truth is that we would all have a better world if we did the difficult things we need to do in order to stay in the narrow corridor. The truth is that, while it’s a lot easier to sell 15 year shingles, we’d all be a lot better off with 25 years shingles. We progressives need to live as well as recognize these truths when we try to convince the American electorate of their virtues this November. Thank you very much.
Speaker 1: (22:42)
Thank you so much for your remarks and for joining us here today. Just before going into the Q and A, I had a few questions about your address. What would you attribute Trump’s success to in 2016? How was it that he won Pennsylvania [inaudible 00:23:05] the Democratic blue wall?
Tom Wolf: (23:07)
That’s a great question. I think part of it was a mistrust on both… I mean, Donald Trump was not the candidate of the establishment Republican party. You could argue that the non-establishment Democrat actually won the nomination in 2016. So, people were in a mood to, I think, throw out the establishment. They didn’t trust the people who were running either side. I think he also gave a message that was easy. He was selling 15 year shingles. He was selling them price, and hatred, resentment, people are out to get you. It’s not your fault. All those things are an easy sell, and I think all those things came together in 2016.
Speaker 1: (23:54)
How has what voters are looking for in Pennsylvania changed, if it has at all, since 2016
Tom Wolf: (23:59)
Well, it’s what I was trying to say, I’m hoping that we progressives get our act together and do a better job of actually selling the product that we’re selling, which is that our society, or economy, or democracy will work a lot better if we actually resist the temptations that come from the easy, the stuff that the hucksters are selling right now. I think we need to work very hard to get the voters to actually trust us.
Speaker 1: (24:32)
You spoke a lot about the importance of trust and how that was important in your own reelection. What can the Democratic candidate do this year in order to gain this trust in Pennsylvania?
Tom Wolf: (24:44)
I’m not sure. I can afford this. I give my salary to charity. My wife and I live in our home. I pay my own way on state business. I pay my own way when I come places like this. I think those things people seem to like. I’m not saying that every public servant should do those things. But every public servant should be aware that people are looking at them, and saying, “You are in a different position than you are as somebody who is selling me shingles. I’m going to judge you differently.” We need to recognize that. I think too often we don’t. I think whoever the Democratic progressive nominee is, they’re going to have to do whatever they can do to say, “You can trust me.”
Speaker 1: (25:38)
Moving to your own election, you were the first challenger to ask the sitting governor. What do you attribute your own campaigns success to, and do you do anything differently from past campaigns that you think stands out?
Tom Wolf: (25:52)
I’m not sure. One of the planes from 9/11 actually crashed in Pennsylvania. So, every year we have a 9/11 memorial out in Western Pennsylvania. I think the second or third year I went out, Donald Trump and Melania Trump came. So, there were a lot of the red MAGA hats, Make America Great hats Again out there. I found myself after the ceremony standing next to one of these guys in a red hat. I looked at him and I said, “Pretty clear you and I have nothing in common,” and we both just laughed. He said, “Tell me something. How have you got used to all these big mucky-mucks around?” I said, “You know, I’m getting used to, I’ve only been in politics,” at that point, “less than four years.” He said, “You’ve only been in politics for four years? What’d you do before that?” I said, “I was in business.” He said, “Gee, that’s really something.”
Tom Wolf: (26:44)
We started talking and actually had a nice conversation. I had to go down and lay a wreath. It was muddy, and I was waiting to go out, and I kept trying to scrape my shoes in the grass to try to get the mud off, but it wasn’t really working. I was about to go out and I felt this pressure on my feet. I looked down and there was this guy with a red hat cleaning my shoes. I looked and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “You can’t go out looking like this.” And I said, “What is?” I think the thing was he just said, “Okay, you and I are very different, but you seem like somebody that that I can trust.” I think that made the difference for me in my first campaign. My ads basically said, “Here’s who I am,” told my story. And people said, “Yeah, I kind of like that.”
Speaker 1: (27:38)
So, it all came down to trust fundamentally?
Tom Wolf: (27:40)
I think it did. I think it did. My wife is here. She and our daughters were in the ads. I think those are the things that sold.
Speaker 1: (27:51)
You spoke about your career before you entered politics. What was it that made you want to get into public life?
Tom Wolf: (27:58)
Well, I did my PhD in Political Science, and so I’ve always been interested and-
Tom Wolf: (28:03)
… Frances and I, building the business, were able to make contributions, realized that we needed to contribute to politicians as well as to social welfare organizations. I was always interested in politics and when it got to the end of my career and retired, the then governor of Pennsylvania was somebody I had supported and he said, “How would you like to be in my cabinet?” So I said, “Yeah, all right.” I’d been a Peace Corps volunteer as a kid, so I said, “I’ll try this.”
Tom Wolf: (28:38)
And I really loved it. I decided to run. I think I didn’t want to be on my deathbed saying, “Maybe I should have tried this.” And there was no reason I should’ve expected to win. But I did. And that really just stemmed from an interest in the political process and a recognition that all of us need to play a part.
Moving onto your work as governor, some of your first acts, including restoring a ban on fracking and state parks and putting a moratorium on the death penalty. Can you talk us through the process of getting these through and if there was any opposition in a state that had a governor who was previously Republican?
Tom Wolf: (29:20)
Oh yeah. There was a lot of opposition, but both of those didn’t require legislation. They were executive orders and I could do those things. The ban on fracking in the state parks was just something I just signed an executive order.
Within your cabinet, did you face any opposition?
Tom Wolf: (29:37)
Okay. That’s good.
Tom Wolf: (29:39)
The cabinet in the United States is different from the cabinet here. They’re not independently elected. They actually were appointed by me.
You also fully expanded Medicaid under the ACA. How have the results of this been, and what noticeable change have you seen?
Tom Wolf: (29:54)
A couple of big things. We actually put 720,000 Pennsylvanians got them health insurance. Pennsylvania’s uninsured rate is now down a little over five percent. It’s the lowest it’s ever been. The second thing is we had, and still do, a big opioid epidemic, people taking prescription drugs that are opium based, and that are addictive. We were losing tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians each year to the opioid epidemic.
Tom Wolf: (30:24)
Expanded Medicaid because Medicaid actually provides reimbursement for people who are seeking treatment for substance use disorder. We now have 120,000 people whose providers are getting reimbursed. I think that’s having an effect. Last year was the first time we actually saw a decrease in the deaths from opioid overdoses. More people are insured. More people have access. Fewer people who are locked into their jobs in Pennsylvania and we have more people who can get treatment for substance use disorder.
And then my final question before we move to the audience is about your launch of the It’s on Us PA campaign to expand awareness of sexual assault. Can you tell us a bit about this campaign and again, the effect that you’ve seen it have so far?
Tom Wolf: (31:15)
Yes. It’s on Us was aimed at preventing campus sexual violence, and it was started by the Obama administration. Pennsylvania was the first state to sign up. We give a lot of grants each year to universities in Pennsylvania to address the issue. They apply for it and they’re between 30 and 40 universities each year who get funding for this, to do things specific to their campuses to address the issue of campus sexual violence.
Tom Wolf: (31:50)
We’re now in our third year I guess, starting our fourth year next year. I think it’s made a difference. We’ve created legislation to make it more likely that people will report sexual violence, instances of sexual violence. We’ve done things to protect people who will report this. For example, if there had been some underage drinking, we [inaudible 00:32:19] say, “If you’re calling to report sexual violence, you will not be charged with anything to do with breaking some other law, like drinking or drugs.”
Tom Wolf: (32:33)
I think our campuses are safer. We still have work to do but I think Pennsylvania has done a pretty good job of actually making it clear that when you’re at university, we want you to be free to study, not to worry about your safety or wellbeing.
Thank you. We will open up to the audience for questions to ask. If you have a question, please raise your hand, wait for the microphone to come to you and please stand up while asking your question. Could we start with the member in the black top on the second row?
Speaker 3: (33:07)
Thanks a lot for coming out today.
Tom Wolf: (33:08)
Sure. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (33:10)
I know that part of your initial campaign for governor back in 2014 I believe it was, was about raising the minimum wage in Pennsylvania, but till today I believe that still has not been accomplished in the full. My question is, getting elected is one thing, but actually passing common sense progressive legislation is another. What are the obstacles? What have you faced in your own experience with this specifically?
Tom Wolf: (33:30)
I think there’s an ideological objection to the minimum wage that the free market forces would actually increase it. As a result, Pennsylvania is still at the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25. There is no state in the eastern part of the country, all of our surrounding states are high. Even West Virginia is higher than Pennsylvania. I have called to raise the minimum wage in each of my budget speeches. The one I gave a week and a half ago, I called for us to go to $15, $12 up to 15.
Tom Wolf: (34:08)
There was a deal that passed through the Senate, a compromise, that got us to $9.50 which was better than $7.25 but it wasn’t what I wanted. But I was willing to go along with that with the understanding I would come back and ask again for 12 to $15. That failed in the house again, ideological reasons.
Tom Wolf: (34:31)
Again, I came back asking for 12 to 15. I think there’s appetite to do something about that. There’s another thing with the minimum wage in the United States. All but eight states, the minimum wage has two tiers. One is for those who get tips, and then those who don’t get tips. That tends to be a very degrading thing, that the tipped minimum wage is $2.83. The idea, theory behind it is that you get tips, but it tends to be a very degrading thing. And so I’m not only for raising the minimum wage but I’m for eliminating the tip minimum wage as well. I’ll keep trying. Again, I have a Republican Senate and Republican majority in the house, so it’s not like I’m dealing with a similar party.
Speaker 3: (35:21)
Tom Wolf: (35:21)
Could we go to the member in the middle over there, with the blonde hair? Thank you.
Speaker 4: (35:33)
Actually building off of that, I am from Arkansas. In a couple of more conservative states, we’ve actually seen ballot initiatives around things like minimum wages pass in a conservative state, but then the politicians aren’t still able to carry that mantle. How can you marry that idea of really winning with the progressive agenda in a state where it can win but you put a politician’s face to it?
Tom Wolf: (35:56)
That’s a really great question. In Pennsylvania the polling suggests that actually the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians support an increase in the minimum wage. As you know, I think in Arkansas and every other state, certain key leaders in leadership positions can do all kinds of things to thwart legislation from ever getting to a vote.
Tom Wolf: (36:19)
If minimum wage came up for a vote, even in a Republican dominated House and Senate, it would pass overwhelmingly. But the right committee chair or person in the speaker’s chair can make the calendar or the committee’s schedule go in such a way that those things just never come up for a vote. I think that’s what would happen even with a referendum. We have the votes. We have the people. The electors, the voters support it. And it’s one of the challenges of democracy, in an effort to make sure that we don’t overload institutions of democracy, that we create some real barriers to actually doing the people’s will.
Tom Wolf: (37:03)
I think the minimum wage in Pennsylvania would be something that we should do something about. What I’m doing is actually trying to get more Democrats and more Progressives into the state legislature.
Thank you. Could we go to the member in the red top over there?
Speaker 5: (37:25)
Hi. Thanks for the talk. That was a really enlightening presentation of progressivism-
Tom Wolf: (37:29)
Speaker 5: (37:29)
… that I hadn’t heard before.
Tom Wolf: (37:31)
Just for the record, we’re not related. That was very nice. Appreciate it. A very nice comment.
Speaker 5: (37:35)
My question is about climate change. In the recent New York Times daily podcast, they interviewed some labor leaders from Pennsylvania representing 60,000 Pennsylvanians, who said if Bernie is the nominee or if Elizabeth Warren is the nominee, they’ll either sit out the election or vote for Trump. Not because they like Trump, but because they represent people whose livelihoods are hinged on fracking, which both Warren and Sanders are calling for a ban on.
Speaker 5: (38:03)
How do you convince Pennsylvanians that climate change is important and something to think about? And also, one thing that’s said about a transition to a green economy is, “We’ll retrain you.” And a lot of people, excuse me, think that’s like 15 years shingles. It’s not actually going to happen. How do you convince them that there’s a brighter future with the green economy?
Tom Wolf: (38:25)
I’m in a tough position. Pennsylvania actually is the number two natural gas producing state in the United States, second only to Texas and about to become number one. I consider myself a strong environmentalist and fracking is banned in the eastern part of the state, not just on state parklands, but in the Delaware river basin. It was going on when I got into this current position. And I haven’t tried to stop it.
Tom Wolf: (38:59)
I have done things to make us more rigorous adherent to environmental standards. I joined the regional greenhouse gas initiative, which is a cap and trade system that had been in place in the Northeast for many years, and Pennsylvania had never joined. At the same time, I have shut pipelines down. Fined, I think, the historic $30 million on one pipeline company that wasn’t doing it right.
Tom Wolf: (39:29)
I’m in this middle position where the extreme environmentalists don’t like my position because I’m not on it for a ban on fracking. On the other hand, the extremes on the gas industry don’t like me because I actually want to hold them to a high standard. That puts me into an interesting position with people who are natural, should be natural allies. Sometimes labor leaders are upset with me because they’re concerned I’m about to veto a bill that they think is really a big deal on creating another cracker plant, and the environmentalists, sometimes extreme environmentalists, don’t like me because of what I believe. I think fracking, we can do it right. I’m serving no person’s land here. I’m not sure that I can do it.
Tom Wolf: (40:23)
If you’ll notice, I think the New York Times was part of a podcast that the lieutenant governor was on. I was not. I tried to steer that fine line between sill and shrimp, just trying to do the right thing by Pennsylvania. And sometimes it’s right by both environmentalists and by Labor. Sometimes it’s wrong by both, but I think that’s what politics are. One of the nice things about being a politician for only five years now is I’m not trying to do anything special. I can be who I am and follow through on what I think, regardless of what the conventional wisdom might be.
Could we go to the member in the very back row, over there, with the glasses?
Speaker 6: (41:16)
Thank you, Governor Wolf.
Tom Wolf: (41:17)
Speaker 6: (41:18)
I’m a graduate student here and I study corruption. I’m particularly interested in the relationship between corruption and trust in government, which I’m interested to hear you speaking so much about. I’m curious how you think corruption plays a role in a lot of ways corroding trust in government in the United States, both criminalized corruption, but also corruption in the form of lobbying, and what you in Pennsylvania may be doing to help fix that and what we might need to do on a national level.
Tom Wolf: (41:47)
Yeah. I wouldn’t deign to challenge anything, but in reading a lot of people, like Lawrence Lessig for example. When you talk about corruption in the United States, much of it is legal, like campaign finance-
Tom Wolf: (42:03)
… is really… Pennsylvania has no limits on what you can contribute to a political campaign. You have to open up the… It has to be transparent, but you don’t have to report the contribution until well after the fact and that’s legal. You can take members of the State House of Representatives out to dinner, and that’s completely legal, but it’s corrupt.
Tom Wolf: (42:31)
I think it’s not so much a matter of dealing with the legal niceties of corruption, it’s actually doing what’s right. I have played by the rules of the game that exist in Pennsylvania, but where I can, I’ve changed them.
Tom Wolf: (42:47)
My very first day in office, I established a gift ban that’s never been done before. People deserve a de minimis kind of thing, $25 or less, we’re not even going to bother. I said, “Zero.”, and I make a big deal of it. When I go for a radio interview, someone gives me a bottle of water, I give him a dollar, which is more than that bottle actually costs, and it’s not because I’m a goody two shoes. It’s just because I just want to make a point and I think we have to make that point wherever possible. I believe we ought to have campaign finance reform, which is why I mentioned it in my talk here.
Tom Wolf: (43:23)
I don’t think there’s a lot of quid pro quo out there. I think people do, for the most part, stay within the rules. The problem in the United States is that the rules allow for bad activity and while it doesn’t come up to the legal definition of corruption, it leads to the same distorted outcomes. I think that’s what we’ve got to get away from.
Speaker 7: (43:47)
Could we go to the member in the back over there, at the end of the room?
Tom Wolf: (43:57)
My name is Abigail. I’m a Pennsylvanian, so thanks for coming.
Tom Wolf: (44:02)
Thank you. Where are you from?
I’m from Philly, just graduated from Penn this spring and now I’m here doing my Masters. I have a question about financing the progressive agenda. How do you reconcile taking profits from the fracking industry, for example, the Marcellus Legacy Fund, and investing that within sustainable infrastructure projects?
Tom Wolf: (44:23)
Yeah, that’s a good, good question. There’s a big controversy in Pennsylvania. We’re the only state without a severance tax, it’s called. Every other state that produces anything or extracts any natural resources from the ground, takes a cut and then uses it presumably for some public good. Pennsylvania has never done that. I think there might’ve been a severance tax back in the cold days, in the 1920s, for a few years, but I think the coal industry put an end to that.
Tom Wolf: (44:53)
As a result, when we’re now cleaning up the coal industry acid mine run off and things like that, taxpayers are having to come up with the bill. I propose something that neither extreme really likes, but it is to say, “Okay, let’s…” By the way, an extraction tax is something that the gas industry embeds in the products that they sell.
Tom Wolf: (45:17)
So whenever someone in Pennsylvania fills up their car with gasoline, they’re paying an extraction tax. Now they’re paying it to Texas and Louisiana and Alaska. The only place they’re not paying it to is Pennsylvania because we don’t extract, we don’t collect that tax. There’s a small impact fee that one of my predecessors put into place, but it’s fairly modest and it doesn’t go to most parts of Pennsylvania, just to where the gas is extracted.
Tom Wolf: (45:42)
So I proposed a moderate, modest I thought, severance tax that would raise about $300 million a year on top of the impact fee, which raises about $120 million, would still be less than Texas.
Tom Wolf: (45:57)
But if you took that $300 million and present valued it, say 20 years at 5%, would come to about four and a half billion dollars and one of the things that’s happening right now in Pennsylvania is with climate change all over the world. We have a lot of micro climatic events like flooding in local areas.
Tom Wolf: (46:15)
The federal government has a threshold, I think $18 million, before it actually intervenes and sends money to people whose homes have been devastated by floods. We have toxic schools, we have many counties that have inadequate broadband coverage. There are a lot of things that people need in local areas. So my thought was take this severance tax, 300 million, present value it, four and half billion dollars, would take four years to raise that in the capital markets and use that exclusively to send out to the local areas.
Tom Wolf: (46:48)
And it has upset, again, some people who really don’t like the idea that we would be taking money from the gas industry, and also, obviously, the gas industry doesn’t like it. It’s one of those things that, again, sort of in the middle of not pleasing either extreme all that much, but I think it would be a good thing for Pennsylvania.
Tom Wolf: (47:10)
It’s one of those things that actually does enjoy broad support in Pennsylvania. Not unanimous, but broad support, but it’s just not allowed to come up for vote because the conservative speaker of the house really doesn’t want any severance tax, he thinks that would be a terrible thing.
Tom Wolf: (47:27)
I think it would be a good thing for Pennsylvania. I don’t know. In the United States, one of the worst things you can do if you’re in state government and to talk to local government, is they hate things like unfunded mandates. This is a funded non mandate. This is, you tell me what your problem is, here’s some money.
Tom Wolf: (47:45)
I think it would be a really useful thing because again, Pennsylvanians are already paying that tax. We’re just not paying it to ourselves, so let’s pay it to ourselves. I think the concern would be that if you do it the way I’m talking about, it creates a dependency for 20 years on an industry that a lot of people don’t think we ought to be dependent on. Such an interesting debate.
Speaker 7: (48:07)
Can we go to the member in the back over there?
Hi, I’m James. I’m not a Pennsylvanian, but I go to school at Swarthmore College half the year.
Tom Wolf: (48:20)
You’re almost a Pennsylvanian.
I was just wondering, you mentioned the book, What’s the Matter with Kansas, which just kind of hung around for a couple of decades in progressive discourse, and one of the critiques of that book from the right is that it takes these kinds of cultural or social concerns of a lot of voters, the voters who flipped Kansas for example, and dismisses them as kind of immaterial, do you see any way around that for Progressives, to kind of not necessarily, you’re probably never going to agree with a lot of these voters, but to at least work around those differences and create politics where you [crosstalk 00:06:54]?
Tom Wolf: (48:53)
Yeah, I don’t… We were talking earlier, Isaiah Berlin, I think was the founder of Wolfson College, was really an, he died in the 1990s, remarkable political philosopher and he talked about human beings. Life is a matter of dealing with incommensurate plans. There is no right answer and I think the idea is that we somehow just have to make a decision.
Tom Wolf: (49:23)
So I might not agree with you, but that shouldn’t keep me from respecting you for what you believe. I have my opinion, I have my belief, and I think I have good reasons for arguing my case, but I have to recognize and respect that you might not share those ideas. I think that’s where we have to end up.
Tom Wolf: (49:45)
I think that’s why I tried to say there’s some folks who blame Progressives for just being so arrogant, that they look at What’s the Matter with Kansas and folks in Kansas are fine with the disagreement. What they’re not fine with, is somebody looking down their nose at them. I’m trying to say that we shouldn’t do that. We should have full respect, but we ought to have enough confidence in what we’re pushing and supporting to be able to look you in the eye and say, “I appreciate what you’re saying, but I think you’re wrong.”, and you should be able to look at me and say, “Okay, I think you’re wrong, but I’m willing to respect you anyway.” American politics, politics in the world these days, I think needs to get away from these sort of ad hominem arguments and condescending debates and get back to sort of, as far as I know what I believe is right and here’s why I believe this. If you tell me something that is different, I’ll be interested in knowing why you think that. I might not be convinced, but I’d be interested in knowing.
Tom Wolf: (50:54)
I think that’s way democracy is supposed to work and I think we ought to get back to that.
Speaker 7: (51:02)
Could we go to the member in the middle over there?
Speaker 9: (51:11)
Hi. Thank you for your talk.
Speaker 9: (51:14)
So in 2018 when you were running your race… I’m a Texan, so I was focused completely on the 2018 Senate race and right after that result, even though Beto lost, there were still talk about maybe Texas turning purple, Texas might turn blue and in 2019 Virginia made transformation from a red state to a blue state. Do you see your progressive ideas helping Pennsylvania turn from a swing state to a dependable blue state or?
Tom Wolf: (51:45)
That’s a great question. I’m not sure. Again, I’ve only been in politics for five years. Apparently I’m the most popular politician in Pennsylvania, but I’m not sure what good that does anybody and I’m not sure that come the 2020 election if I’m going around and asked to speak on behalf of whoever the democratic nominee is, that that’s going to be a help or not. Presumably it’ll be some help.
Tom Wolf: (52:12)
I think that the thing that we can do, as Progressives, is look at some of the mechanics. I’m working very hard to raise money for people who are running for the State Senate and the State House who are Progressives. I think that’s really important.
Tom Wolf: (52:28)
I think it’s important to try to set an example and say that Progressives are people you can trust, but I think it’s going to take some hard work.
Tom Wolf: (52:40)
Virginia flipped because a lot of people did a lot of hard work. Texas, Beto almost won, but not quite, by working really, really hard and the same year, 2018, your governor was reelected and he’s a very conservative guy.
Speaker 7: (53:04)
We have time for one final question. Could we go to the member in the first row?
Speaker 10: (53:11)
Thank you. My question, being Russian, I’m really interested in your elections.
Tom Wolf: (53:15)
So I’ve heard.
Speaker 10: (53:25)
The question is about current primaries because it’s a lot of progressive agenda going on and it may be a lot of unexpected results for many people. Since you talked a lot about communicating your ideas to others, what’s in [inaudible 00:53:38] and what makes or breaks candidates in terms of communication, their agenda to potential voters and is communication different if it’s for democratic voters or [inaudible 00:53:49] in general on a national level?
Tom Wolf: (53:52)
Well, the second question I think applies to all voters.
Tom Wolf: (53:56)
The first part, we apparently have not done a very good job yet because there’s somebody who’s sort of emerged from the pack so voters are out there still considering and there hasn’t been a break. Usually by this point there’s a break toward one of, or a small group of, candidates. Everybody seems to be sort of in the same mix right now.
Tom Wolf: (54:18)
I’m not sure how this plays out. We haven’t done, and I’m not sure that this is the candidates or the system, that the party has sort of done a really kind of a weird debate strategy and then we had some of the election counting problems in Iowa. So there’s some issues that get to the heart of at least one of my three criteria, the competence that the people can be forgiven for scratching their heads saying, “I’m not sure I want to turn the country over to [Yulot, 00:54:55] but I think people in the United States are ready for a change and I think there is a growing disenchantment with the direction that we’re heading.
Tom Wolf: (55:10)
But I say this as a lifelong Democrat, we have been very good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory before and that may happen again.
Speaker 7: (55:20)
Great. Thank you so much. That’s unfortunately all we have time for today, but please join me in thanking Governor Wolf.