Pa.'s Tom Wolf raises eyebrows as he walks the walk of 'a different kind' of governor



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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Tom Wolf, who promised in his election campaign to be "a different kind of governor" for Pennsylvania, is raising some eyebrows as he begins to demonstrate what that means.

The businessman-turned-politician disclosed this week that he will break with tradition and finance the transition from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's administration to Wolf's new Democratic one by soliciting contributions from private sources.

Wolf's transition team announcement was the latest decision to rattle the status quo in Harrisburg: he also won't take a salary, live in the governor's mansion or allow anyone in the executive branch to accept gifts.

Wolf says the cost of the transition is a financial burden taxpayers should not have to shoulder. Individual donations will be limited to $50,000 and the sources will be disclosed in mid-January and updated at the end of March.

Barry Kauffman, the director of Pennsylvania Common Cause, contends that the transition is an official task of the government and that state taxpayers should foot the bill as a matter of principle.

"The public does have a very profound interest in ensuring that the functions of government proceed smoothly regardless of who's in the top spot," Kauffman said.

Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said he wasn't sure taxpayers would agree that they should pay.

"It's a transition from a campaign into a government, but Gov.-elect Wolf doesn't become Gov. Wolf" until his inauguration on Jan. 20, Sheridan said.

The transition is a nuts-and-bolts process in which officials who run the departments and agencies in the state bureaucracy share vital information with the incoming administration in an effort to ensure a seamless transfer of power. Transition expenses, which include office space, computers, telephones and other infrastructure, are traditionally covered by a supplemental appropriation approved by the Legislature.

Wolf has made a point of doing certain things in a different way since he crushed Corbett's re-election bid in last month's election.

He announced that he will skip the governor's salary, which will increase to nearly $191,000 on Jan. 1.

Shortly thereafter, Wolf's decision to bar members of his transition team from accepting gifts of any kind — and to extend a similar restriction to all executive branch employees once he's sworn in — was applauded by open-government advocates. State law allows gifts of any value to public officials, including legislators, and requires disclosure only when the annual value reaches a certain level.

It was "a message that resonated with the public," Kauffman said.

This week, Wolf said he will take the unusual step of using his own money to rent office space for his state police security detail while the troopers are guarding him and his wife at their home in Mount Wolf, where they plan to stay instead of moving to the governor's residence in Harrisburg, more than 20 miles away.

"It's (an expense) that he doesn't want to sock the taxpayers with," Sheridan said.

In 2003, at the first inaugural bash for Ed Rendell, the state's last Democratic governor and the honorary chairman of Wolf's inaugural committee, the donors list resembled a who's who of labor unions, major corporations, utilities and trade groups. Contributors were grouped according to whether they gave "at least" $50,000, $25,000 or some smaller amount. The biggest donors alone gave more than $2 million.

Planning for the governor-elect's celebration is still in the early stages, but it's already "different" in one way — there's a $50,000 limit on contributions.


Peter Jackson is the Capitol correspondent of The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at pjackson@ap.org.

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