Wolf starting to look like 'two-term Tom' as 2018 approaches

FILE â€' In this March 8, 2016, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf meets with diner patrons before discussing his executive order to increase the minimum wage for state government employees and workers on jobs contracted by the state, during a news conference at the Trolley Car Cafe in Philadelphia. As the Democratic governor's campaign for a second term ramps up in advance of the November 2018 election, Wolf's first-term record is by and large established and political winds are at his back.

HARRISBURG – With three weeks until the’ deadline to pass a new state budget, Republicans in the state Legislature are giving little hint that a minimum wage hike sought by Democrats will be part of the deal.

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a minimum wage hike in his February budget proposal and he renewed that call on Tuesday.

“While other states are raising their minimum wage to $15 per hour, Pennsylvania has the lowest wage allowed by federal law and it’s hurting workers. Pennsylvania is lagging behind 29 other states, including all our neighbors, in ensuring fair wages,” Wolf said. “When jobs don’t pay enough, workers can’t afford the basics, like food or housing.”

Wolf said that a $15 minimum wage would boost the pay of 2 million workers, 61 percent of them women.

Pennsylvania still uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which as not changed since 2009.

Among nearby states:

• The minimum wage in Delaware is $8.75;

• In Maryland, the minimum wage is $10.10;

• In New Jersey, it’s $8.85;

• In New York, it’s $11.10

• In Ohio, it’s $8.55

• In West Virginia, it’s $8.75.

Republicans who control the state Legislature have made it clear that Wolf’s proposed minimum wage hike is too drastic an increase. They’ve however offered little hint about what they’d consider a suitable alternative.

“There’s been no discussion” about increasing the minimum wage as part of the Republican budget proposal being put together by leaders of the Senate and House, said state Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, the Senate Majority Whip.

While Wolf’s statements mentioned a $15 minimum wage, his budget proposal called for a $12 an hour minimum wage this year, with increases yearly until it reaches $15 in 2025.

“We remain open to a reasonable plan to increase minimum wage. We have long said the Governor’s proposal is not reasonable,” said Jenniferr Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County. “It’s something we remain willing to consider in the coming weeks.”

The minimum wage hike is a priority for Democrats, said Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery County, the Democratic chair of the House appropriations committee.

Giving Pennsylvania’s lowest-paid workers a raise would be “good policy,” he said, “that has have real-life consequences.”

While the status of the minimum wage increase remains unclear, there are few other controversies swirling around the budget discussions, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said.

Part of the lack of controversy comes from the fact that there’s been so little public debate over the budget.

“It’s never been this quiet,” regarding the state of the budget in early June, said state Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County.

Wolf’s proposal didn’t call for any broad-based tax increases and the state announced in early May that tax revenue was more than $800 million above projections.

In addition, Wolf’s budget proposal included focus on workforce development and efforts to boost the farming industry, the kinds of initiatives that members of both parties can find common ground support, Bradford said.

“There seems to be a real sense that everyone wanting something done without the drama,” Bradford said.

Members of both parties said that while there are no obvious hiccups on the horizon, it’s too soon to know whether lawmakers and the governor will be able to strike a deal without some kind of dust-up.

“Others have said before, the first 98 percent is easy,” Gordner said. “The last details can be difficult.”

CNHI PA State Reporter

CNHI State Reporter John Finnerty covers the Pennsylvania Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com.

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