Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf says critics of tax plan must consider benefits
HARRISBURG — Criticism of the higher income and sales taxes that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing must be weighed against the benefits they would make possible, including multibillion-dollar reductions in school property taxes, he said Wednesday.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Wolf acknowledged that efforts to scale back property taxes date to the 1980s. But, he said, reforms are more likely now because of the “growing restiveness” of homeowners who must struggle to pay those rising taxes.
“The people of Pennsylvania expect the people in Harrisburg — their public servants, us — to actually do something,” the first-term governor said.
Wolf’s proposed tax increases, which include boosts of more than 20 percent in the income tax and 10 percent in the sales tax, have drawn withering criticism in the Republican-controlled Legislature since he presented his budget plan last week.
Years of efforts by Republicans to achieve similar goals — increasing state taxes to cut school property taxes — have failed. Rather, lawmakers have agreed to make it more difficult for school boards to raise property taxes.
Wolf’s overall plan would balance a recurring deficit in the state’s operating budget, cut corporate taxes, establish $426 million in rebates for lower-income renters and finance more than $4 billion in new aid to education programs and school districts to cut property taxes.
“People want real relief, not small relief,” he said.
Other proposals that Wolf said have strong popular support include the corporate income tax reduction, a new tax on natural-gas drilling and increased state support for academic programs in the schools.
“You’re not going to have a good economy, you’re not going to have good lives, if you’re cheating yourself of a good education system,” he said.
Under Wolf’s plan, the state income tax would rise from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, identical to a plan floated by the House Republican floor leader, Dave Reed, of Indiana County. It is designed to deliver tax cuts to homeowners whose incomes are below $100,000, while those who earn more would pay more.
Including school employee pension costs, Wolf’s budget would increase state spending on operations by 9 percent, to $31.6 billion, in the fiscal year beginning July 1.