Corbett blasts Wolf; Clinton speaks at challenger’s South Side rally
Republican Gov. Tom Corbett told the Pennsylvania Press Club on Monday that the amount it would cost Pennsylvania taxpayers to cover Democrat Tom Wolf’s campaign promises is the top issue of the Nov. 4 election and, according to his campaign, could reach $4.6 billion for education spending alone.
In Pittsburgh, roughly 1,200 Wolf supporters gathered at a rally headlined by former President Bill Clinton, who backed the challenger’s plans for a natural gas severance tax.
Corbett, speaking at a luncheon in Harrisburg, said, “How much Pennsylvanians will pay out of their pocketbooks (under Wolf) is the No. 1 issue.” Wolf “wants you to elect him before he tells you how much it is going to cost you.”
Wolf’s campaign rejected Corbett’s notion, calling the $4.6 billion figure “nonsense” that does not accurately reflect Wolf’s multi-pronged state spending plan.
Jeff Sheridan, a spokesman for Wolf, said Wolf’s “Fresh Start” platform outlines long-term goals that depend on finding new revenue and can’t be accomplished in a single budget. The campaign does not have a hard number for spending on education.
With a week until Election Day, Corbett is attempting to close Wolf’s double-digit lead in the polls by highlighting Wolf’s spending plans. Wolf is focused on boosting turnout and collecting high-profile endorsements for his plans to tax natural gas extraction and increase money for schools.
Corbett and other Republicans have said Wolf’s education proposals will cost an additional $4.6 billion next year, citing a study by the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in Harrisburg. That would result in a 188 percent increase in the personal income tax rate, from 3.07 percent to 8.85 percent.
“Every taxpayer will be impacted by the taxes he’ll raise,” Corbett said.
The study calculated the increase from Wolf’s proposal to grow public education spending by $1 billion and fund schools at 50 percent state share, along with $581 million in pension increases for 2015-16.
Wolf proposes a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling to generate an estimated $1 billion a year, the bulk of which would restore $1 billion he claims Corbett cut from K-12 public education.
Corbett calls this “the big lie.” He and his aides have said it was President Obama’s expired federal stimulus money that the Legislature and previous governor declined to restore. On Monday, Corbett sarcastically said Wolf’s proposed extraction tax is “going to fund everything he wants to do.”
Sheridan said the severance tax revenue would be spread across four areas: education, infrastructure, renewable energy and the Department of Environmental Protection. Restoring the $1 billion in cuts, Sheridan said, includes putting at least $580 million back into classrooms and changing the way charter schools are funded.
“Gov. Corbett can dress up those cuts however he wants,” Sheridan said. “The bottom line was education was not a priority for them.”
Beyond those priorities, Wolf’s platform paper outlines new spending in multiple areas, including: higher education, scholarship programs, universal pre-K and city revitalization projects. Sheridan said Wolf’s revenue plans include closing corporate tax loopholes and expanding Medicaid in step with the Affordable Care Act to increase federal funding.
“What they’ve done over the last four years hasn’t worked, it isn’t working, and people are ready for something new,” Sheridan said. “People are rejecting Gov. Corbett’s policies, and it starts with education and the economy.”
In the IBEW Local Union No. 5 hall on the South Side, Clinton spoke for about 15 minutes, touting Wolf’s biography, resumé and proposals. Clinton said he thinks it’s “unbelievable” Pennsylvania does not have a severance tax.
“I think it’s better to have a reasonable severance tax on a natural resource that is not coming back and put it into a resource like education that keeps on giving,” Clinton said, eliciting cheers.
Sharon Ward, executive director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think tank in Harrisburg, said the tax could make a “significant dent” in boosting education funding.
“I don’t see a solution for Pennsylvania’s budget for the foreseeable future that doesn’t include a severance tax,” Ward said.
If the severance tax brought in $1 billion a year, it would be the fourth-largest revenue stream in the state budget, she said. The 2014-15 budget is $29 billion.
“The alternative, frankly, is taxes on individuals, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the public supports the tax,” Ward said.
The other piece of Wolf’s tax plan would affect individuals. Wolf has proposed a personal income tax structure to lower the impact on those who earn less than $70,000 to $90,000 a year by expanding a universal exemption to a still-unknown figure. A yet-to-be-determined increase would raise the tax on earners above that benchmark.
Sheridan said that information would be based on the most recent data available come budget season.
Corbett and his allies say the plan lacks specifics.
An hour before Wolf’s campaign event with Clinton, Allegheny County Republican Chairman Jim Roddey said the data used to calculate Corbett’s budget estimates are publicly available, and Wolf ought to tell voters how much he intends to raise taxes.
“He may be the only political candidate in my experience that has ever run a campaign to raise taxes,” Roddey said. “That’s sort of unheard of.”