Governor Wolf: Right Thing, Wrong Reason?

Member Group : Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania

As surely as night turns to day, politicians make decisions to improve their chances of re-election. For Governor Wolf, that means a proposal to close two state prisons. Just like his move to close Unemployment Compensation call centers was politically charged, Wolf’s decision to close prisons is also politically motivated, and it isn’t just Republicans who are making that complaint:

"On Monday, another budget fight took shape during a Senate hearing in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers accused Wolf of playing politics with the safety and economic security of their communities…

"’Why does this decision have to be made so fast?’" asked Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, whose district includes a prison in Pittsburgh.

"The facilities have to be empty by July 1 to to [sic] meet the full budget savings in the 2017-18 fiscal year, [Corrections Secretary] Wetzel replied.

"’That’s the political reason,’ retorted Fontana, who said he did not believe the savings estimates if the prison employees are offered jobs elsewhere."

Governor Wolf is trying to erase from voter’s minds his last two years of tax and spend budgets by proposing modest spending cuts. His targets thus far have been smart from a political perspective: two prisons, two mental hospitals, and reduced spending on economic development are targets that were sure to garner objections from Republican lawmakers. With a $2 billion deficit, Wolf is proposing small cuts that his opponents will object to; giving him the opportunity later to say "I tried to make spending cuts, but the General Assembly wouldn’t let me. I guess we’ll have to raise taxes."

If we ignore the Governor’s political motivation in closing the prisons specifically, does it make sense from a policy perspective?

Although the union representing Corrections Officers would disagree, closing the prisons is the right choice from a fiscal standpoint. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, the Pennsylvania state prison system will be 92 percent full if two prisons are closed; that allows enough room for an uptick in the inmate population.

Now that the floodgates are opening for cost cutting, we hope that the next item on the chopping block is the $250 million from the "Race Horse Development Fund."