Oct. 13–Gov. Tom Wolf plans to ask the state General Assembly again next year to pass a tax on natural gas extraction if he’s re-elected.
Wolf said the state needs to focus on more money for education, senior citizen health care and opioid abuse treatment. Each ranks among his five priorities for his next four years with creating jobs and boosting integrity in government rounding out the list, Wolf said during a meeting with The Times-Tribune editorial board.
Wolf, a Democrat from York County, seeks a second four-year term. He faces trash-hauling businessman Scott Wagner, a former state senator who also lives in York County; Paul Glover, a Green from Philadelphia; and Kenneth V. Krawchuk, a Libertarian from Montgomery County. The job pays $194,850 a year, but Wolf has declined to take the salary.
Wolf proposed an extraction tax, also known as a severance tax, in each of his four budgets, but Republicans balked.
“I would put a severance tax on top of the (existing natural gas) impact fee and the combination of those two should be in line with (what’s) … in line with everybody else (other states),” the governor said.
Wolf said he reversed the state’s $1 billion reduction in public school education funding under Gov. Tom Corbett and balanced the state budget, which he said will not end in a deficit next year.
“We’re moving in an 180 degrees different direction than when I got there,” he said. “I put money into the Rainy Day Fund, first time in 11 years. It wasn’t a lot, $22 million, but there was only $246,000 there when I put it in or something like that. … I am not going to have to borrow a penny to keep the lights on.”
Wolf said he and Republicans continue to discuss ways to reduce school property taxes, but said he doesn’t think state Sen. David Argall’s plan to eliminate and ban re-imposition of property taxes will work. Argall proposes swapping a higher income tax and a higher and expanded sales tax for property tax elimination.
A ban could reduce local control of schools, Wolf said, and an alternative could be letting voters decide on property tax hikes. The state already allows a form of that. Voters must approve tax hikes higher than a rate set annually by the state.
“We need to do something in a responsible way to help folks who are being thrown out of their homes because they can’t pay their property taxes,” he said.
In his first budget, facing an overwhelmingly Republican legislature, Wolf proposed imposing an extraction tax and raising income and sales taxes in exchange for more education funding and lowering school property taxes. The result was a nine-month impasse that ended only when the assembly passed the budget and Wolf let it become law without signing it.
Wolf called that process “shock treatment” and said it signaled “we’re going to be doing things differently.”
He and Republicans still “poke each other in the eye,” but they have learned to get things done, he said.
As his accomplishments, he cited “historic amounts of money for education,” expanded Medicaid, secured more money for opioid abuse treatment, legalized medical marijuana and modernized the liquor store system.
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