Wolf appoints political insider as energy advisor

  • Susan Phillips
Gov. Wolf delivered his budget address Tuesday in Harrisburg.

Matt Rourke / AP

Gov. Wolf delivering his first budget address in Harrisburg.

Attorney, lobbyist and political insider David Sweet will be advising Governor Tom Wolf on energy and manufacturing issues starting Monday. Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says Sweet, who currently works for the law firm Buchanan Ingersoll, will serve as a special assistant to the governor, making $129,605 a year. In the position, Sweet will report directly to Governor Wolf and act as a deputy secretary at the Department of Community and Economic Development.

The position is a departure in some ways from the Corbett administration’s “energy czar,” or “energy executive”, a cabinet position held by Patrick Henderson, who made $145,000 advising the governor on energy issues.

In this new position, David Sweet will work on issues related to both energy and manufacturing.

Sweet told StateImpact that his role covers both issues because those are two of Wolf’s priorities for creating well-paying jobs in the state. The attorney and former state lawmaker says Wolf did not choose him for his energy expertise, but rather, his political savvy.

“I’m not touting myself as an expert on energy issues,” said Sweet. “What my role is, I believe, in those two areas is really figuring out ways to mobilize what government resources are there, work with [multiple] state departments…and develop consensus. I’m bringing more of the government and political experience to try to get things done.”

Sweet says Governor Wolf wants to make sure momentum is not lost when it comes to attracting new businesses to the state.

Wolf’s proposed budget would cut the state’s corporate net income tax by 40 percent, down to 5.99 percent, with more cuts in the second year of his term. Pennsylvania currently has one of the highest corporate income tax rates in the country. Many companies, including those in the energy sector, avoid some part of those taxes by registering in Delaware. Wolf says he also wants to get rid of the capital stock and franchise tax and close corporate tax loopholes.

Sweet says the governor needs someone like him to help recruit new manufacturers.

“I think part of the reason [the governor] selected someone like me is in Pennsylvania the challenges are political and institutional, and there’s a need to have someone on a regular basis, to follow in the governor’s wake.”

Sweet says Wolf wants to be strategic and focused when it comes to economic development, which could just as well include pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs, in addition to energy jobs.

In some cases, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan says energy and manufacturing efforts could merge, if for example a new plant uses Marcellus Shale gas to run its operations, or uses the gas as raw material for plastics. But Sheridan says that would not necessarily be the case.

“[Sweet] will not be someone who is just solely devoted to the energy industry,” said Sheridan. “It will be beyond that. It will be a broad position.”

Sheridan says that would include leading collaborative efforts among different agencies in order to carry out the Governor’s budget priorities such as “strengthening manufacturing and taking advantage of natural gas,” as well as pursuing clean coal, wind and solar. Sheridan also said the position would evolve.

David Sweet will be Governor Wolf's special

via Sweet's LinkedIn profile

David Sweet will be Governor Wolf's special assistant for energy and advanced manufacturing.#39;s LinkedIn profile

Sweet says one of those roles could be to promote Philadelphia as an energy hub. As an attorney Sweet did play a role in the transformation of the city’s Sunoco refinery to Philadelphia Energy Solutions, which is a major refiner of Bakken Shale crude oil. And the company’s CEO Phil Rinaldi is a booster of reviving the city’s manufacturing legacy through the use of the state’s cheap natural gas.

“That was part of the whole vision of the host of people who worked very hard to save all three of those refineries,” said Sweet. He says it’s important to seize on the opportunity that Philadelphia’s location and infrastructure presents when it comes to processing shale gas, and using it to power new factories.

Sweet, a native of Pittsburgh, served Washington County as a Democratic state lawmaker from 1977 – 1988. In 1988 he ran for state treasurer, but lost to Katherine Baker Knoll. He served as a campaign manager for Ed Rendell in 2002. And he also advised Democrat Dan Onorato in his failed gubernatorial race in 2010.

When asked about Sweet’s qualifications, Sheridan pointed to his expertise with financing large projects.

According to his biography Sweet has helped hammer out financial deals totaling more than $3 billion. He has also served in this role for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority, the Commonwealth Finance Authority and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. His private clients are listed as PNC, Citigroup, the Bank of New York Mellon, RBC, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs.

“You get a feel for people and for financing structures,” Sweet said, “What’s feasible and real and what isn’t. I think I can bring some of that to the table.”

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