AFTER TOM WOLF got his doctorate from MIT, he worked at his family-owned cabinet company - driving a forklift.

That experience could soon come in handy.

Estimates just released by the state's Independent Fiscal Office say the incoming governor's first budget faces a shortfall of nearly $2 billion.

Heavy lifting clearly is called for.

And the first question? Does digging out of a fiscal fissure hurt or help his top priorities of seeking more money for schools and getting more money, via a severance tax, from natural-gas drillers?

"I'm not sure it helps or hinders," Wolf says in an interview. "I think what they [the numbers] do is promote a shared sense of crisis" with legislative leaders.

But doesn't a large revenue shortfall help chances for a new gas-extraction tax while hurting efforts for more school funds?

"We'll have to see," he says.

We will, indeed.

He declines to discuss possible deals such as backing public-pension or state-store changes, opposed by unions supporting him, in exchange for a gas-extraction tax.

But he says, "I am willing to work with people who are willing to work with me in good will. I've always done that. . . . I am not an ideologue."

It's anyone's guess how Democrat Wolf fares as governor after taking office in January.

If he's like governors before him, there'll be some slipping and sliding until he gets his footing. If he does.

But by any measure, he enters on a slope.

He'll face a more conservative, more Republican Legislature than outgoing Republican Tom Corbett faced. And there's that $2 billion load to lift.

Still, there are signs that Wolf intends to live up to his oft-stated claim that he's "a different kind of leader," not a conventional politician.

Let's take a look.

He's stepping down as head of his 1843-founded family business, the Wolf Organization, and putting his assets in a blind trust.

He's not taking the $187,256 governor's salary (highest in the nation).

He's not taking pension or health-care benefits.

He's mostly eschewing the governor's mansion, preferring instead his York County home.

He's imposed a code of ethical conduct - including a gift ban - on his transition team, and says he'll extend it to staff, appointees and agencies under his jurisdiction on his first day in office.

And he's ending no-bid contracts to law firms, a practice long used by governors of both parties to reward or attract political donors.

The intent, says Wolf, is "to make this process as open and ethical as possible."

Long-term goals include reforming campaign finance, redistricting and more, "to make democracy healthier in Pennsylvania; that's really important to me."

In less-lofty areas, he talks about driving his 2006 Jeep Wrangler to and from the Capitol. His home in Mount Wolf, named for his family, is 22 miles from Harrisburg.

He says he's "in conversations" with his security detail - which now follows behind when he drives - about allowing that to happen.

And it appears that he'll treat the annual Pennsylvania Society weekend next month in New York as he did last year: Instead of hosting a reception or fundraiser, common for state pols during three days of partying in another state, an aide says that Wolf again likely will donate to Pennsylvania food banks. Last year he gave $15,000.

Much of this can be seen as steps toward changing Harrisburg's image as a place where pols' first priority is taking all they can get.

Any effort in that direction has to be seen as positive.

Yet, Wolf faces real work.

He spent the weekend in Westminster, Colo., outside Denver, at a National Governors Association event for governors-elect. His campaign paid for the trip.

Maybe he should have stayed home and practiced using his forklift.

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