Horrible Harrisburg's York County connection

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Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, left, heads the Senate campaign committee and is looking to pick up enough seats this year to create a veto-proof chamber against Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, right.

TO BETTER understand why Pennsylvania has no budget, why the Capitol's a partisan pit where progress is prisoner, look no farther than nearby rural York County and two of its rich-guy sons.

Wealthy Democratic Gov. Wolf and wealthy Republican Sen. Scott Wagner represent opposite ends of a fight for the state's current and future fiscal and political status.

They've also come to represent the slippage of civil public debate.

Wagner, a pugnacious conservative who tells me, "I'm not the most polished guy," recently raised eyebrows speaking of Wolf at a GOP gathering.

"We had him down on the floor with our foot on his throat and we let him up," Wagner said. "Next time we won't let him up."

This was a reference to negotiations for a state budget due last July.

It came not long after Wolf at a news conference called a GOP budget offering "an exercise in stupidity" and "garbage."

This was possibly a reference to the fact that Wagner owns a waste-management firm and is self-described as a "garbage man who never graduated college."

The pair are at odds and make for an odd couple: different with similarities.

Wagner grew up on a farm and started his business with two garbage trucks in 1985: "I was handed absolutely nothing."

Wolf has an Ivy League education, advanced degrees and wealth from a family cabinetry business founded in the 1840s.

Both came to power touting "real-world" business experience to change and better run government.

Both made Pennsylvania history in 2014: Wolf was first to unseat an incumbent governor; Wagner was first to win a write-in Senate seat.

And these nontraditional pols who never previously held elective office are on a collision course, ideologically and politically.

Wolf believes in government, says new revenue is needed to fight a growing deficit and to better fund public schools. He proposes tax increases to do so.

Wagner mistrusts government, opposes tax increases and says funding needs can be met with revenue from other sources.

And it's in "other sources" and their amounts where the conflict lies.

There are many examples. Here are two.

Wagner says that if the state's 500 school districts could opt out of paying mandated prevailing (i.e., union) wages for construction and maintenance projects, $200 million to $300 million could be saved for other educational uses.

Wagner's offering legislation allowing the option. The Wolf administration does not support such a change.

Wagner points to a Wolf proposal that Wagner likes but that's gone nowhere: Cut Wall Street investment fees paid to manage public pension funds, for a savings of $200 million.

Although proposed last March, it hasn't happened. Wagner says, "It's all talk." Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says Wolf's working on it.

Also being worked on are political plans to change the game.

Republicans control both legislative chambers, but not by enough to override Wolf vetoes.

Wagner heads the Senate campaign committee and is looking to pick up enough seats this year to create a veto-proof chamber. It would only take two. He's also helping with House races, hoping to build on its 120-83 GOP advantage.

Meanwhile, top Democrats are talking with Wolf about major spending in campaigns against Republican incumbents to blame them for local tax increases, gridlock, rising borrowing costs, education woes and more.

And, although it's early, it's also clear that Wagner has interest in Wolf's job.

"People are starting to understand what I'm saying," says Wagner. "You need to turn over every rock to look for savings, like I do with my businesses."

He mentions legislative-staff size and salaries and how every state agency wants more money every year.

When asked about a run for governor, he says, "Yes, I have an interest."

And would he run in two years as fellow-countian Wolf (presumably) seeks reelection? "Potentially," says Wagner.

So future state politics is playing out in present state politics as two guys from the same place pull Pennsylvania in different directions.

Email: baerj@phillynews.com

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