Where Pennsylvania’s candidates for governor stand on issues
HARRISBURG – A look at where the two candidates for Pennsylvania governor — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican nominee Scott Wagner — stand on some key issues, from abortion rights to taxes. Wolf is seeking a second 4-year term. Wagner, who runs a waste-hauling company, served four years in the state Senate before resigning in June. The election is Nov. 6.
Wagner said he opposes abortion rights. He voted for legislation, vetoed by Wolf last year, to ban elective abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, compared with 24 weeks in current law. He also opposes state funding for Planned Parenthood and supports a “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy.
Wolf has opposed any effort to curtail abortion rights or cut off state funds from Planned Parenthood.
Wagner supports the death penalty. He said he will sign death warrants and will work to expand the application of the death penalty.
As governor, Wolf is granting reprieves – not commutations – when inmates are scheduled for execution, creating an effective moratorium on the death penalty. Wolf has said he has concerns about a “flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust, and expensive.” He believes the moratorium should continue until the Legislature addresses problems identified in a June report by the Joint State Government Commission.
Wagner opposes more restrictions on gun ownership or gun sales. He also opposes an expansion of background checks on gun purchases.
Wolf supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons and bump stocks and an expansion of background checks to cover private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles.
Wagner voted for legislation to force people with a domestic violence conviction or restraining order against them to more quickly forfeit their firearms, and Wolf signed it earlier this month.
Wagner supports legislation to prohibit all labor unions from collecting dues from employees who refuse to join the union or pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Wolf opposes the legislation.
Wagner said he will keep Pennsylvania’s 4-year-old expansion of Medicaid’s income guidelines, but he said he would seek a federal waiver to institute a work requirement for able-bodied adults, and possibly seek other changes.
Wolf supports Medicaid’s expansion and last year vetoed legislation to impose work or job search requirements. A federal judge has blocked Kentucky from enforcing a Medicaid work requirement, and a similar court challenge over Arkansas’ requirement is pending.
Wagner said he would support raising it to around $9.50 or $9.75 an hour, up from the current federal minimum of $7.25. His campaign said he wants to make the change in steps, similar to the way legislation he backed in the Senate would have raised the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour in three 50-cent increments over three years. Wolf last year proposed raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour immediately, and tying future increases to inflation.
Wagner supports a move to a full 401(k)-style benefit for Pennsylvania’s two major public employee pension systems; in 2015, he voted for legislation to combine a 401(k)-style defined-contribution plan and a “cash-balance” plan that, it was estimated, would have reduced pension debt payments by $11 billion over about 30 years.
Wolf vetoed that bill, saying it would have unfairly forced newly hired state government and public school employees to help pay down the cost of existing pensions. Wolf last year signed a hybrid pension law that is projected to have very little effect on debt payments over the next three decades.
Wagner supports the elimination of school property taxes, under legislation that theoretically would make up for more than $13 billion in disappearing school property tax revenue by raising the rates of Pennsylvania’s personal income tax and state sales tax, and expanding the base of the sales tax.
Wolf said he stands by a $3.2 billion plan he floated in 2015, his first year as governor, to be financed by increases in personal income and state sales taxes. Under Wolf’s plan, most of the money – just over $2 billion – would go to districts in the bottom half of average income. The plan is part of Wolf’s goal of raising the state’s share of education funding to 50 percent, up from nearly 38 percent in 2016-17, according to the latest federal data. That proposal went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Wagner supports legislation to create taxpayer-funded “education savings accounts” that divert state aid for public schools into accounts that parents can use for tuition at private or parochial schools. Wolf opposes the bill.
Wagner said in March he was not inclined to devote more money to public schools, but later said he would support a $1 billion injection of cash into public schools in his first year as governor. He said he can find the necessary cash by privatizing the sale of wine and alcohol in Pennsylvania, ending ineffective tax credits and finding unspecified efficiencies in state government.
Wolf said he will continue to push for more funding for public schools to ensure every student gets a good education, although he has not outlined specific amounts. In his first term, lawmakers approved an additional $1 billion in education aid, about half of what Wolf had originally sought over the four years.
Wolf supports the creation of a new commission to draw congressional and legislative district boundaries. Wagner supports the current system in which state lawmakers draw legislative and congressional districts.
TAXES AND BUDGETING
Wagner said he can reduce the cost of state government – whose operating budget is $32.7 billion – by $1.5 billion to $4 billion, although he hasn’t said how. Wagner said he opposes tax increases, including on the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry.
Wolf said he does not envision needing a budget-balancing tax increase in a second term but will continue to pursue a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas production. The Legislature has blocked that tax and the majority of the billions of dollars in other tax increases Wolf had sought to wipe out a persistent deficit and boost public school aid.
Both Wagner and Wolf want to cut Pennsylvania’s 9.99 percent corporate net income tax rate. Wagner said he wants to lower it to the same rate as Pennsylvania’s personal income tax, 3.07 percent.
Wolf last year proposed lowering the rate in steps to 6.49 percent in 2022, and also restructuring how it is applied to stop businesses based in other states from avoiding the tax on their Pennsylvania operations. Republican lawmakers blocked the proposal.
Wagner has declined to release his tax return. Wolf made his two-page 1040 form public and allowed The Associated Press to review the rest of his 102-page federal tax return.