Wolf budget proposal draws a partisan response

By Kristina Scala, Delaware County Daily Times

Delaware County politicians react to Governor Tom Wolf’s first budget announcement that’s calling for a historical increase in spending on a $33.8 billion budget.

The governor highlights plans to fund “schools that teach, jobs that pay, and a government that works” increasing spending by 16 percent.

His proposal would increase basic education funding $2 billion in the next four years by implementing a 5 percent natural gas extraction tax. The property tax relief, planned to reduce homeowners’ property taxes by a more than 50 percent average, is contingent upon a nearly 1 percent bump in personal income tax to 3.7 percent and state sales tax to 6.6 percent 

Minimum wage workers would see an increase in hourly pay to $10.10. The budget also anticipates a reduction in corporate net income tax rate by 40 percent in the first year and 50 by 2018.

It’s expected the state will save $150 million immediately and hundreds of millions long-term, according to the governor’s administration.

Political differences are causing Republican lawmakers to reveal potential spending issues in Wolf’s plan that would increase spending by $4.7 billion.

Democrats continue to applaud Wolf’s spending decision.

State Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-185, of Philadelphia, sees Wolf’s proposal as a signs that “his priorities are clear.” She said his three main areas of focus – increasing jobs, more funding for schools and “a government that works” will lead legislators in the direction best suited to boost the commonwealth’s current standing.

“I look forward to hearing from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as representatives from different state agencies, on the best ways to move Pennsylvania forward. I believe Governor Wolf’s worthy plan will guide us in the right direction,” Donatucci said in a prepared statement.

Some Democrats are cautious to quickly jump to share opinions on certain areas in the budget. Instead, they welcome Wolf’s efforts and consider it a reasonable starting point for both parties to hash out differences.

“No single tax expenditure is enacted in a vacuum,” said Steve Hoenstine, a spokesman from Sen. Daylin Leach’s office. Hoenstine said Leach, D-17, of Upper Merion, calls Wolf’s budget release “bold and comprehensive. 

Hoenstine said Leach sees the pension issue and other budgetary proposals will be included in negotiations 

It’s a little premature at this time for Sen. Leach to comment on any given proposal, any specific proposal,”Hoenstine said. “Any increase or decrease in spending is not inherently good or bad. What matters is what it’s being spent on. 

As Wolf’s Dems praise the plan to increase jobs, funding for schools, the GOP wonders what the plan is to pay for a 16 percent increase in spending.

GOP members are not convinced that some of Wolf’s tax overhaul will solve the state’s issues. Party leadership is saying the issue with school funding can’t be fully addressed unless a reasonable plan is formed to take care of the state pension crisis.

“Unless they do something about the pensions, it’s going to affect all the school districts in Delaware County,” said state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield.

Rep. Joe Hackett, R-161, of Ridley Township, opposes a raise in state sales tax and increase in personal income tax. Even with a minimum wage increase, local businesses can’t afford the additional expense. He said any raise given to minimum wage employees would be taken away by increasing personal income taxes.

“This is a direct attack on Pennsylvania’s hard working middle class and it is neither fair nor realistic,” he said in a prepared statement.

Wolf’s first address marks the start of the budget process, including debate. Details will be hashed out between state lawmakers in the next several weeks.