GOP lawmaker proposes income tax increase, severance tax to break impasse

| Thursday, July 16, 2015, 1:47 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Saying it's time to break the impasse, a Republican lawmaker on Thursday offered a budget package that he claimed would meet Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and GOP leaders halfway in the 17th day of a stalemate.

“I think it needs to stop,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo of Bucks County. “The rhetoric has to stop.”

DiGirolamo's proposal includes a personal income tax hike.

Media campaigns by both sides need to end because they make matters worse, he said during a Capitol news conference.

Wolf proposed a 3.7 percent income tax rate; DiGirolamo would increase it to 3.3 percent, from 3.07 percent.

GOP leaders of both chambers say a broad-based tax increase is off-limits.

The governor wants to impose a 3.2 percent severance tax on natural gas on top of an existing impact fee for municipal revenue of 1.7 percent to 2 percent. He suggested a state sales tax of 6.6 percent, extended to more items.

DiGirolamo, among the most liberal members of the GOP caucus, said he knows passing an income tax “would really be a struggle.”

Though he is a rank-and-file legislator, his sharp departure from the GOP caucus position is noteworthy.

“Income and sales tax increases for extra spending are off the table,” said House GOP spokesman Stephen Miskin.

DiGirolamo's message may be more significant than the details, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. In divided government, “neither side will get what it wants,” he said.

DiGirolamo said the severance tax, if brought to the House floor, might get 30 to 35 Republican votes. Democrats would have to lure Republicans to find enough votes to pass a shale tax. With vacancies, Republican leaders control the House 118 to 80 and set the agenda.

Wolf “appreciates Rep. DiGirolamo's efforts and willingness to put forward a serious plan that addresses the deficit,” including a “commonsense severance tax” to invest in education, said the governor's spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan.

“Hopefully,” he said, “Republican leadership will now begin to see the need to negotiate with the governor to address these issues.”

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, has said a smaller shale tax than Wolf proposed isn't out of the question if coupled with legislation to benefit the industry, which proponents say has been reeling from low gas prices.

Corman stressed this week he does not support such a tax.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, has voiced vehement opposition to a shale tax and other taxes Wolf proposed.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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