Politics & Government

Governor pushes reform plan in Bellefonte

Gov. Tom Wolf, joined by Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins and state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, visited Bellefonte, Pa., Tuesday, March 29, 2016.
Gov. Tom Wolf, joined by Centre County Commissioner Mark Higgins and state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, visited Bellefonte, Pa., Tuesday, March 29, 2016. jhartley@centredaily.com

Gov. Tom Wolf made a brief stop in Bellefonte on Tuesday to outline his “Government that Works” reform plan, which he hopes will restore some faith in state government.

Flanked by Centre County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman Mark Higgins and state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, Wolf stopped by the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and spoke of the five-point plan to bring accountability and transparency within the legislative system.

We need to do everything we can to promote the trust and justify the trust we need to have from the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Wolf

“We need to do everything we can to promote the trust and justify the trust we need to have from the citizens of Pennsylvania,” he said in the media-only event. “That’s what makes democracy work.”

The reform plan stems from his executive order banning gifts for executive branch employees, he said. The order, signed in January 2015, restricted employees, appointees or officials from receiving gifts of any monetary value from anyone doing or seeking to do business with the commonwealth.

Now, Wolf said, he was encouraging colleagues in the legislature to broaden the reform to everyone at the state level.

The first point of the plan, he said, is to institute a gift ban for all public officials. After gift-related scandals, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Turnpike Commission instituted their own bans, according to a news release from the governor’s office, but more action is needed.

“People are paying attention to gifts,” Wolf said, “and that seems to distort the political process.”

Second, Wolf said he wants increased reporting of outside income by public officials and employees. Ethics reports currently specify where outside income comes from, but not the amount.

Third, broader pay-to-play provisions will increase disclosure of campaign contributions, he said. These new provisions would require businesses awarded state contracts to disclose all political contributions made by their officers and employees the preceding year.

Wolf’s fourth point would see an increase in the review of lobbying disclosures and making sure the Department of State has the adequate resources to do that, he said.

Currently, 3 percent of lobbying disclosure forms are audited after the fact, he said. Instead, he proposed that all lobbying disclosures be audited to ensure compliance.

“Some states do that on a real-time basis,” Wolf said. “If we see discrepancies between what the lobbying firm has disclosed and what they believe is fact, we can follow up with a forensic audit.”

Finally, Wolf proposed strong campaign finance reform, noting that Pennsylvania is one of 12 states without limits on campaign contributors. The reform would place limits on contributions to candidates seeking elected office, place restrictions on political action committees and strengthen disclosure requirements across the board.

... it’s really in an effort to build trust a democracy depends on to survive.

Gov. Tom Wolf

“So that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said, “and it’s really in an effort to build trust a democracy depends on to survive.”

Commenting on current budget discussions, Wolf noted the state continues to face a $2 billion deficit heading into the 2016-17 budget and was concerned about a downgraded rating if the deficit continues to hang over the state. Saying he spent nine months during the previous budget stalemate calling for attention to the deficit, he will continue to do it into current discussions.

“If we want a government that’s worthy of the trust of the people of Pennsylvania,” he said, “then we need a government that is actually honest about its finances.”

Jeremy Hartley: 814-231-4616, @JJHartleyNews

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