WILKES-BARRE — Tom Wolf said Tuesday he wants a 5 percent severance tax on the Marcellus Shale industry, and he wants to increase state Department of Environmental Protection funding to add personnel to adequately enforce regulations already on the books.
Wolf, 65, of York County, discussed the upcoming May 20 primary during a visit to The Times Leader. He offered reasons why Democrats should choose him in a field of four candidates seeking the party nomination and chance to unseat incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in November.
“I have the skills to get stuff done,” said Wolf, describing himself as an “unconventional candidate” who has never sought political office. “I’m not seeking this job just to keep a seat warm. Some people say I’m too nice a guy, but I assure you I can make the tough decisions, and I have a clear vision of what Pennsylvania can be.”
Wolf’s run for governor began with an ad campaign that started nine weeks ahead of all other candidates. In the ads, Wolf told his story — how he went to Dartmouth and then left after one year to join the Peace Corps to teach people in India better ways to grow rice. He returned to Dartmouth, graduated, earned a master’s and then a Ph.D. before joining his family’s business as a forklift operator.
“I’m sure I’m the only candidate for governor who managed a True Value Hardware store,” Wolf said.
He has built, sold, repurchased and rebuilt the business into a $400 million building products company. He said he pays his workers well, provides excellent benefits and shares 20 to 30 percent of the company’s profits with them.
And Wolf boasts of his community involvement, all the while freely admitting his wealth and his ability to almost self-finance his multi-million campaign.
He has served as state secretary of revenue under Gov. Ed Rendell. He still lives in the house he grew up in Mt. Wolf, named after his grandfather.
Wolf said improving public education will put more people to work, will rebuild the middle class and will strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy.
“We must provide every child with a world-class education that equips them with the skills to succeed in the 21st century,” he said. “Pennsylvania needs a leader who will work tirelessly to make sure that every child, regardless of his or her zip code, receives the best possible education.”
Wolf said he will restore Corbett’s $1 billion in cuts to education, implement a fair funding formula and institute reforms to help local school districts innovate and improve student performance. He said he will be focused on making education a priority and he favors property tax reform, lowering the education dependency on property taxes significantly.
Wolf said he has created well-paying jobs with good benefits, and he can do the same as governor. He said that under Corbett, Pennsylvania has fallen from seventh to 41st in job creation and there are nearly 500,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians.
“There’s nothing better than a good job,” he said. “We’ve got to provide a place our kids want to come home to. Government can’t create jobs, but it can set the table for talented people.”
Wolf said he will work to get the state’s economy moving again by rebuilding the manufacturing sector, starting with clean energy technology. And he said he’ll work to create the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future through policies that put the middle-class first.
With Pennsylvania sitting on one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world, Wolf believes the natural gas industry is the key to the state’s economic growth. He said he will push for a 5 percent severance tax and ensure the water and environment are protected.
Wolf said the extraction fee would generate about $600 million to $700 million per year, most of that going to education and the DEP and to the affected municipalities.
“We’re the only state without a severance tax on natural gas,” Wolf said. “If states like Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma are able to charge a severance tax on gas extraction to fund key priorities, it’s time Pennsylvania does to.”
Wolf said he wants to do a comprehensive transportation study to assess the needs and to look at “21st century” issues like mass transit, rail and other ways of connecting the key areas of the state.
Wolf also took exception to recent negative ads in the campaign. He noted that he has not engaged in that style, but the mere mention of them got a rise out of him.