BRADFORD, Pa. — It was apparent that Gov. Tom Wolf was comfortable around groups of children as he easily conversed and joked with students as young as 4 during his visit to George G. Blaisdell Elementary School in Bradford on Thursday.
Wolf’s unannounced afternoon tour of the school came on the heels of his morning visit to Towanda Area Junior-Senior High School in rural Bradford County in the northeastern portion of the state.
That excitement was witnessed when a group of kindergarten children in Jennifer Kwiatkowski’s class performed an enthusiastic chant on leadership skills for the governor, and gathered around him when they were done.
“This is great, I wish they treated me more like this in Harrisburg,” Wolf joked following the children’s performance.
In commenting on why he chose GGB to visit, Wolf said he had traveled to Bradford a number of times over the years and had “heard a lot of good things” about the school district.
“I really applaud the teachers, administrators and the kids for what they’re able to do,” Wolf said. “The reason I chose this place is because there are so many good things that are happening. ... This (school district) is a great example of what we could do if we had broadband all throughout Pennsylvania.”
Following his tours of other parts of the school, the governor addressed the need for improved broadband that could be enhanced through his Restore Pennsylvania initiative.
The initiative, according to Wolf during a session in the school’s library, would expand broadband access for school districts and communities through a controversial severance tax on natural gas and oil production in Pennsylvania. The severance tax, proposed by Wolf on several occasions but opposed by Republican legislative leaders, would generate an estimated $4.5 billion in the next 20 years. He said the funds would not only help with broadband expansion, but also would be used to mitigate flooding in communities across the state prone to the natural disasters. Republican leaders, however, reportedly have blocked the legislation, stating the improvement of the state’s aging infrastructure cannot come at the expense of the Commonwealth’s economy and taxpayers.
Wolf told the local group that one of the barriers for growth in rural Pennsylvania is the lack of broadband.
“We have 12.8 million people who live in Pennsylvania and almost one million of them don’t have access to broadband” for internet services, he said. “We’re not going to be everything we can be if we don’t do something about that.”
Wolf said Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in natural gas production, and the only state that doesn’t have a severance tax on the natural resource. He claimed the oil and gas industry wouldn’t bear the entire cost of the severance tax as it would be embedded into the cost of gasoline or other industry products.
During a question and answer session, Kane Mayor Brandy Schimp asked Wolf how rural communities such as hers could be assured they would receive Restore funds, if the legislation is passed. While Wolf didn’t provide a solid answer to Schimp, he said he would be open to suggestions on providing Restore funding in a fair and equitable manner to communities throughout the state.
Wolf also told the group this will be his last term as governor and said he didn’t want to be on his “deathbed (one day) and explain to his grandchildren why Pennsylvania, when it had a chance, did nothing” to push for the severance tax and the amenities it could provide.
“This is our time ... and we have some real needs in Pennsylvania to deploy those funds,” he remarked.