Pennsylvania’s Wolf Struggling with GOP Over Budget, Education Funding


Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf gave a budget briefing this week that included a warning that if he cannot convince lawmakers to support higher taxes to pay for the state’s long-term budget shortage that he inherited, significant cuts in spending for education and higher borrowing costs will occur.

The first-term Democrat finds himself in the middle of a government budget impasse that hit its 100th day this week, write Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo of The Associated Press.

Fielding questions from the press at his official residence in Harrisburg, the governor did not say whether he has convinced any Republicans to support the tax plan he favors. In two days the plan could face a floor vote in the GOP-controlled state House.

Because of the prior budget’s use of one-time cash reserves and other stopgap measures, along with increasing pension and health care costs, Pennsylvania has a multi-billion-dollar deficit.

“If we don’t balance our budget after years of not doing it, in a bipartisan way, we are going to have serious problems this year and even bigger problems next year,” Wolf told reporters.

Although Wolf’s revised tax plan is different from the one he presented in March, he is going to need Republicans to support higher state taxes on sales, income, or both. Top GOP leaders have said Republicans will not support such a measure and have asked Wolf to ditch the idea. But Wolf has answered that he sees no other way to raise the kind of money the state needs to fix the deficit and supply new dollars needed by schools.

“I have not seen any alternative way to get to a truly balanced budget that balances mathematically,” Wolf said. “If they can do that with integrity and honesty in another way then I’ll give this up. But I will continue to fight for what I think Pennsylvania deserves, and that is an honest approach to this budget.”

In June, the governor vetoed a $30.2 billion Republican-written budget that did not include tax increases and raised education funding moderately. Still, Wolfe is concerned that even his fellow-Democrats might accept the GOP budget and not his tax package.

Wolf’s March plan included raising the personal income and sales taxes and expanding sales tax to other goods and services, along with raising cigarette taxes and creating a new tax on natural gas drilling. These actions, he said, would dramatically raise funding for K-12 education, would subsidize local property taxes and close a budget deficit, according to Karen Langley reporting for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The deficit for next year, even if a balanced budget is reached for this year, would be almost $2.3 billion.

But House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-McCandless) said at a Philadelphia meeting of the natural gas industry in September that the governor’s plan was an “unbelievably unreasonable approach toward regulatory compliance,” to which Wolf replied, “The math just doesn’t work.”

Wolf also referenced the education funding reductions made by former Gov. Tom Corbett. He reminded lawmakers that the cuts were extremely unpopular and could very well have contributed to his inability to be re-elected, writes Paul J. Gough for the Pittsburgh Business Times.

“If people didn’t like what they saw four or five years ago, they’re going to hate next year because we simply have come to the end of the line for these one-time (budget) fixes,” Wolf said.

Wolf’s own budget proposal would have added $1 billion in aid to local school districts. When the governor was asked if he would shut down state government if his revenue plan did not get the requisite 102 votes on Wednesday, he answered:

“I haven’t made that decision.”