First-year reflection


Though Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack were elected by a wide margin in 2014, there were obstacles to implementing their agenda.

The Democratic ticket would face a Republican legislature with big majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The result?

The administration and the legislature have not been able to agree on a final budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. In December, Wolf agreed to much of a $30 billion-plus budget, but vetoed other parts. The biggest outstanding question is public education funding.

“Neither he nor I thought it would be this rocky,” Stack said of their first year in office.

Stack said Wolf was elected with a mandate to increase education spending and create good jobs.

“The governor came in with an ambitious agenda.” he said.

Partisanship and acrimony have largely ruled the budget process.

Despite the slow progress toward a budget, Stack labeled the stalemate “just a bump in the road.”

Stack, who splits time between his home on Wayside Road in Somerton and the lieutenant governor’s residence at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, spoke about his first year in office during an interview at his 11th-floor office at the Bellevue, Broad and Walnut streets.

The lieutenant governor also has offices in Pittsburgh and the Capitol in Harrisburg.

Stack presides over the Senate and chairs the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, the Emergency Management Council and the Pennsylvania Military Community Enhancement Commission.

In the last year, he’s visited all 10 of the state’s military installations, including Naval Support Activity, at 700 Robbins Ave. in Lawndale.

“I’ve really been keeping busy,” he said.

Stack, 52, has also made plenty of appearances, including hearing Pope Francis speak when he was in Philadelphia. After last Friday’s interview, he headed to the Philadelphia Auto Show.

A former state senator, Stack continues to propose legislation. For one, he wants the legislature to adopt a two-year budget cycle.

“It’s a good idea. We would take a year off from bickering and fighting,” he said.

Stack said he and Wolf also support an increase in the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $10 or more. Neighboring states have higher wages and job creation.

“I think it will help the economy,” he said.

The lieutenant governor is also in favor of increasing or removing the cap on tax credits for movie companies to attract more films like The Dark Knight Rises, which was filmed in Pittsburgh, and Creed, which was shot in Philadelphia.

“It’s a money maker and a job creator,” he said of the tax credit.

Stack said he tries to bring civility and a respectful tone as president of the Senate. He also tries to build relationships with lawmakers that will result in support for administration objectives.

When he served in the Senate from 2001–14, he never saw a lieutenant governor break a tie. He has broken two ties, one against an amendment that would ban governments from deducting money for unions that is used for political purposes and another against a measure that would eliminate billions of dollars in school property taxes statewide by replacing the money with increases in state tax rates on sales and income.

Stack said his past service in the Senate helps him build relationships.

“I’ve got credibility with other members,” he said.

As chair of the state parole and probation board, he’s slashed the backlog of requests for pardons and expungements.

The board has also approved commutation of a life sentence for a juvenile convicted for his role in a 1970s home robbery in Kensington that ended when his accomplice — his older brother — killed a resident. Wolf has yet to act on the board’s recommendation.

“It’s an important job and a lot of responsibility,” Stack said of his role on the board.

On a related issue, Stack opposes proposed construction of a new riverfront prison to replace the aging House of Correction.

“I think that’s a terrible waste of a resource we have,” Stack said of the Delaware River waterfront. “It’s a natural resource and a treasure. It’s the worst place to have a prison.”

On other issues, Stack said Pennsylvania has “the best National Guard, by far.”

In August, during a family vacation in Ireland, Stack took a detour to visit Almac, a Belfast pharmaceutical company looking to expand its two locations in Montgomery County. He took his findings to Dennis Davin, secretary of the Department of Community and Economic Development.

Stack also represented the administration at a Great Lakes Conference of Governors in Quebec, Canada, where he met with Canadian officials, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. The officials ultimately signed a trade agreement.

Looking to the near future, Stack said he wants to promote policies that will maintain and attract good jobs and boost public education spending.

“We have to be investing in young people,” he said. ••

A rocky start: Lt. Gov. Mike Stack explains his biggest challenge has been the inability for administration and the legislature to agree on a final budget for the fiscal year. Despite the slow progress toward a budget, Stack labeled the stalemate “just a bump in the road.” DONNA DIPAOLO / FOR THE TIMES