VOTERS ARE SIDING with Democratic Gov. Wolf over the Republican-controlled Legislature in the ongoing state budget standoff in Harrisburg, according to a new Daily News/Franklin & Marshall College poll released today.

The poll, conducted between Aug. 17 and 23, found that 54 percent of voters hold the General Assembly responsible for the lack of a budget, while 29 percent hold Wolf responsible. The budget was due eight weeks ago.

"People ask me,'Why is Wolf doing as well as he's doing? Why isn't he more to blame than the Legislature?' " said poll director G. Terry Madonna. "Wolf gets elected by 10 points and says he wants to increase education spending. That was a big issue. How's he want to pay for it? With a shale tax. What he has proposed to do, the voters want."

Republicans have stonewalled Wolf's request for more school funding until they get state pension reform. But Madonna said pension reform is "inside baseball," and many voters don't understand it.

"At the moment, they want [Wolf's] agenda," Madonna said. "He's omnipresent around the state, campaigning on the agenda. It's popular, and the Legislature hasn't done it."

Madonna said the lack of a state budget hasn't hurt Wolf like it hurt Gov. Rendell in 2009, probably because state workers are still being paid and services haven't been curtailed.

"You can't find five people on the street who will tell you something they need or use from state government is not being delivered," he said.

The poll also found that Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is leading Democrat Joe Sestak 41 percent to 29 percent, and Democrat Katie McGinty 35 percent to 28 percent. Toomey is up for re-election next year.

"He's going to be harder to beat than people think. He's not Rick Santorum. He's not provocative and outspoken," Madonna said of Toomey. "He's mild mannered and thoughtful and he's into a lot of fiscal issues."

Sestak or McGinty, however, could benefit from a Democratic landslide in the presidential race because ticket-splitting in big elections is less common today, Madonna said.

"There could be coattails," he said.

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