The problem with Tom Wolf
Tom Wolf, the Democrats' nominee for governor, has a one-word solution for improving public education in Pennsylvania: taxation. And he has a one-industry target for that taxation — shale.
In an interview with the Tribune-Review, Wolf explained that “part of the challenge of solving the education problem is making sure we're adequately and fairly funding it.” And he described shale as the goose that “lays the golden egg” for the state. According to reporter Melissa Daniels, Wolf's “proposed severance tax could yield hundreds of millions of dollars, based on market prices and how the tax is structured.”
Two years ago, Wolf wasn't running for statewide office but his party certainly held the opposite view of the effectiveness of taxation in order to raise money for public education. The difference in 2011 and 2012 was that the targeted industry wasn't shale but liquor.
Gov. Corbett wanted to privatize and tax liquor sales and take the proceeds for block grants to public schools. True, there was opposition among some Republicans (for shame) but Democrats and especially friends of labor, which Wolf proudly proclaims himself in almost every appearance and ad, were dead set against disbanding the Liquor Control Board, privatizing liquor stores, selling licenses that would have raised millions, and then reaping rising income and liquor taxes to benefit public schools.
The estimated windfall for Corbett's proposal wasn't hundreds of millions, by the way; it was $1 billion and some thought that conservative.
Wolf now embraces shale taxation for education because it's a private industry whereas the liquor industry is public. And he's such a good friend of the workers that protecting any union jobs is going to take precedence over raising $1 billion for public education. But aside from the hypocrisy, there's a bigger problem with Wolf's tax philosophy: Most taxation solutions really aren't solutions at all.
The best answer to solve government fiscal woes is getting out of the way and letting a robust economy generate a broader base from which the revenue that states need to function is derived.
Look around the country and you'll see that in places where the government has lowered the tax burden, economic and population growth follows. Just compare Texas to Illinois and you see what lower taxes and a friendlier business climate can do for a state economy. By contrast, Pennsylvania has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the country.
There's one more problem with Wolf's view that more money will mean better public schools: It isn't true. There are fewer students and they are getting more tax revenue and yet the schools are terrible.
Abby W. Schachter, a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at captainmommy.com.