EDITORIAL: We agree with Gov. Wolf's wish list ... and it still won't fly
Gov. Tom Wolf laid it all on the line for his seventh state budget proposal this week.
Higher personal income taxes, but with tax forgiveness allowances. Lower corporate income taxes, but a severance tax for the natural gas industry. A huge, immediate bump in the minimum wage. Diversion of funds away from the horse-racing industry. Fees for municipalities that rely on state police instead of their own law enforcement coverage. And much, much more money for education, paired with reform for charter school law.
The proposal, as always, is a wish list from Wolf
And, as always, but even more so this year, the Republicans who control the state Legislature are less than willing to give the governor what he wants.
An income tax increase AND a minimum wage increase? In the midst of a pandemic? While Republicans are giddy with the popularity of their calls to end pandemic restrictions and hold more hearings and investigations into nonexistent fraud from November's election?
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, called Wolf's plan “completely unsustainable, totally irresponsible and absolutely crippling to the state’s economy.”
Members of the overwhelmingly Republican York County delegation suggested better uses for the money while Wolf's recorded speech was still hanging in the socially distanced air.
“Taking the increased revenue from the income tax to grow state spending rather than provide meaningful school property tax relief is a deal-breaker for many Pennsylvanians who have seen their school property taxes remain the same if not increase while they have been laid off from their job through no fault of their own,” said state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, in a statement.
In other words, no. No to the tax changes, no to the fracking tax, no to the increase in the minimum wage.
Anyone who has paid any attention at all during Wolf's tenure could see this coming. Every year, Wolf puts out a plan, and every year, the Republicans who control the Legislature laugh and turn it down.
Last year was an anomaly, with a stop-gap plan put into place to keep the state government running as tax revenues plummeted during the COVID-19 shutdown. Previous years saw budget standoffs that lasted well into fall and cost school districts and nonprofit organizations money they didn't need to spend on loans to keep their doors open.
After seven years, Wolf has thrown the weight of his office behind his most progressive budget yet. Perhaps he instead should be governing in reality.
We know by now where the governor's priorities are, and we agree with him on many points. Pennsylvania does need to fix the systemic inequities in education funding. The minimum wage should be higher to match wages in neighboring states. Municipalities should have to pay something for using solely the state police for law enforcement. And it's ridiculous that drillers aren't paying a severance tax on Pennsylvania's natural gas.
But Wolf knows these proposals won't fly, not with this Legislature. The test here is to see how far he is willing to push his proposals, knowing some at least are doomed from the start.
The last thing Pennsylvanians need after a horrendous year is more pain caused by a drawn-out budget impasse.
Between now and the June 30 budget deadline, we hope to see compromise on both sides that will lead to some of the real changes Pennsylvanians need.