ShareThis Page
News

Wolf's tax-a-palooza

| Saturday, March 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2015-16 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf is seeking more than $4 billion in higher taxes on income, sales and natural gas drilling to support new spending on education, property tax cuts and erasing a large projected deficit next year.
Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2015-16 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa. Wolf is seeking more than $4 billion in higher taxes on income, sales and natural gas drilling to support new spending on education, property tax cuts and erasing a large projected deficit next year.

HARRISBURG

It was big and bold. It was a political document, to be sure. It was clearly more than the Republican-controlled state Legislature can swallow.

Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf's first budget, a $34 billion spending plan, according to GOP analysts, would raise $4.7 million in new revenue.

It masks a portion of tax hikes for new spending as “tax reform.” There is a genuine effort, however, to reduce property taxes, I believe. That's been the Gordian knot of state politics for more than 40 years. Everyone wants property taxes reduced but few are willing to pay more in other taxes.

Wolf was closing a $2.3 billion deficit left by GOP Gov. Tom Corbett, saying he would also restore education money he contends Corbett cut.

Under Wolf's plan, income, sales, natural gas extraction and tobacco taxes would be raised.

Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, sees it as a continuation of Wolf's campaign rhetoric and he believes it is doomed in the GOP-controlled General Assembly. He called the budget “unrealistic.”

“No one believes this will cut people's property taxes in half,” as Wolf claimed, DiSarro said.

“It's a bold proposal to be sure,” said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College. “However, it's unlikely that the Legislature will agree to a 6.6 percent sales tax and also agree to expanding the base of items that are subject to the state's sales tax.”

Wolf, however, added several features to appeal to Republicans as negotiations get underway over the next four months.

The major piece is the tax shift. He claims it will reduce property taxes by $3.8 billion in 2016. But part of that includes previously allocated gaming monies for tax relief and a separate program for rent relief, his office says.

He attempted to box in House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana, by noting Reed had sponsored a bill raising the income tax to 3.7 percent — the same rate Wolf chose — to cut property taxes. The key difference, however, is the lack of “dollar-for-dollar” property tax relief in Wolf's plan, Reed said.

Other items with GOP appeal:

• A $90 million increase for state-related schools including Pitt, Penn State, Temple and Lincoln. Penn State, from which many lawmakers hold their diplomas and even more worship the Nittany Lions, would get the bulk of the money.

• 100 percent restoration of House and Senate operating funds slashed by a Corbett veto in a budget dispute last year.

• Cutting the Corporate Net Income Tax rate in half by 2018. Pennsylvania's exorbitant CNI has long been a Republican complaint.

• Taking the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax elimination off the table as a bargaining chip. Wolf could have left it out of his budget, forcing lawmakers to negotiate for the final year of the tax's phaseout.

Still, it will take a mega-deal of liquor privatization and/or substantive pension reform for the GOP to get serious about parts of Wolf's budget.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me