ShareThis Page
Pa. Gov. Wolf pushes ‘broad-based tax increase’ to avoid $2B deficit |

Pa. Gov. Wolf pushes ‘broad-based tax increase’ to avoid $2B deficit

Planned Parenthood of Pennsylvania’s lobbyist tipped off Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s office about videos that touched off a national furor over the sale of fetal tissue. Lobbyist Sari Stevens offered talking points and told the governor’s aides that her information was intended to remain among “friends,” according to Wolf administration emails provided to the Tribune-Review. The story “has not reached mainstream media yet; we are trying to keep it that way,” she wrote.

HARRISBURG — At a critical point in the 97-day budget stalemate, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and House Democrats on Tuesday will present a revised tax increase plan that Wolf considers necessary to close a $2 billion-plus deficit and boost funding for education.

It’s all-or-nothing stakes.

If Wolf succeeds in a vote scheduled for Wednesday, he’ll get the spending plan he wants. For House and Senate Republican leaders, who oppose Wolf’s plan to raise broad-based taxes, it’s a chance to defeat higher taxes or at least show Wolf that he does not have the votes.

“For both sides, it’s absolutely critical,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh. It’s the first sign both sides are taking real steps to try to resolve a dispute that, by law, was supposed to end with a budget in place by July 1.

“It’s a sign both may be willing to compromise,” Shuster said. “Both sides can ill afford to play the waiting game any longer.”

If Wolf fails, “he’s got to realize asking for 14 percent more (in income) from everybody is not going to become a reality,” said Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans.

Republicans are working with a Sept. 11 plan they say Democratic leaders claimed almost all 84 House Democrats would support. It would raise the income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.49 percent. It would expand the 6 percent sales tax by broadening its base, adding items and transactions including book and music downloads, cable TV, dry cleaning, amusement and recreation.

Wolf still wants an extraction tax on natural gas to help boost education funding — a centerpiece of his 2014 campaign.

Most of the talk internally Monday focused on the personal income tax, cigarette tax increases, and the Marcellus shale gas extraction tax, a Democratic staffer said.

“There is no final amendment yet,” said Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman.

A GOP-crafted budget that Wolf vetoed in July didn’t close the deficit and “was not honest,” Wolf told reporters during a morning news conference at the Governor’s Mansion. Doing nothing will mean cutting state programs and increasing property taxes, and likely will lead to credit downgrades for the state, he said.

Wolf acknowledged it will be difficult to keep all the House Democrats on board for a vote to hike taxes. “I’m very concerned,” he said.

House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said “we’re very hopeful” most Democrats will hold firm.

Southeastern Pennsylvania is potentially the most fertile ground to find Republican lawmakers who will break ranks. Wolf would need 18 GOP votes if all Democrats support his plan.

It’s “absolutely not” likely that many, if any, Republicans will defect, said Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon. Though it was not an “explicit offer,” Diamond got a call from a Wolf administration official dangling the possibility of transportation and economic development grants for his district if he votes with Wolf. Diamond said he wasn’t interested.

Sheridan said he wasn’t aware of any such offers.

With state funding drying up, many school districts and human service providers are borrowing money.

“We are willing to work with (Wolf),” House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said. “We have been willing to work with him. We are attempting to work with him … on a reality-based budget.”

Wolf told reporters he’s “looking forward to trying to get 102 votes” in the House on Wednesday. “This is a once-in-a-generation vote. I’m grateful for the opportunity to test this.”

But, said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester, “I don’t see any way it’s going to pass. But maybe it starts off a new discussion.” Without linking the tax plan to specific spending plans, the odds are steeper for passage, Leckrone said.

House and Senate GOP leaders have said they won’t lobby against Wolf’s plan and will give him a fair shot to pass it.

If it is substantially different from Wolf’s Sept. 11 plan, “it will be reassessed,” Miskin said.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, said he does not believe the votes are there for a broad-based tax hike — except if they are used on a “dollar for dollar” trade-off to cut property taxes.

“To get the funds (Wolf) would like, he would likely have to offer something that Republicans would jump at — like liquor store privatization,” said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College. “But even that may not be enough.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using 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.