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 firstname.lastname@example.org).