HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Donning a Philadelphia Eagles cap, Gov. Tom Wolf guaranteed a standing ovation at his budget address to the legislature.
But noting the Steelers’ six Super Bowl victories, he smartly added, “We now have seven Super Bowl rings in Pennsylvania.”
That was the fun part of what’s usually a boring budget speech.
Wolf’s address was short but clear on its bottom line — a balanced $32.9 billion budget with no new taxes.
Claiming he has cut 1,500 state jobs, streamlined the bureaucracy, and cracked down on fraud and abuse, Wolf declared, “Because we’ve begun to take a new approach to our budget, I can come before you today with a budget that makes the investments we need to continue our progress without any tax increases on Pennsylvania families.”
But one tax he still wants — a severance tax on Marcellus shale drilling.
“Everywhere else — Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alaska — they’re bringing in billions of dollars form the oil and gas industries. That money’s going to fix roads, build schools, and keep taxes low,” he said.
But not in Pennsylvania.
“I get it,” the governor told lawmakers. “The oil and gas industry, they’re powerful.”
Wolf challenged lawmakers to show “political courage” and pass the tax.
Two other items were not in his speech but in the budget he submitted.
Wolf said he’d launch new product lines at the Lottery to raise $150 million for senior programs, including games based on virtual sports and keno and an iLottery system allowing players to access games through mobile devices.
And he said it was time to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour to keep Pennsylvania in step with 32 other states, including all our neighbors.
“It’s our turn to build a stronger and fairer economy,” he said.
This could be his last budget speech or — if re-elected — the latest in a Democratic governor’s attempt to cajole a Republican legislature.
“It’s our turn to finish writing the next chapter in the story of this great Commonwealth,” he said.
Wolf was mostly upbeat, hailing the work Democrats and Republicans have done together.
“When we’ve found ways to do that, we’ve been able to get a lot done for the people of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said.
As examples, he cited attacking the opioid crisis, reducing the prison population while lowering the crime rate, enacting a fair funding formula for education, reforming the state’s pension system, legalizing medical marijuana, and modernizing the state’s liquor system.
Most of the $32.9 billion dollar budget was submitted in writing, like a $6 million pilot program to purchase body cameras for state police.
The governor’s budget also asks for a $25 fee on those residents who rely on state troopers because they live in communities without their own local police. That fee would train and fund 100 new troopers for the state police.
“I have never been more proud to be a Pennsylvanian. I have never been more confident of our people. I have never been more hopeful of our future. And if you feel the same way, please consider this proposal an invitation to join me in building that future together,” the governor said as he concluded his 18-minute speech.
Wolf tells the “KDKA Morning News” investment in education is vital to Pennsylvania’s future.
“Right now 300,000 jobs in Pennsylvania require STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills but over the next 10 years the thinking is that 70 percent of the jobs are going to require these skills,” said Wolf.
Wolf says he believes the budget is in good shape.
“I’m not going to be calling on for any [new] taxes on Pennsylvania families. We can do this because the budget is finally balanced . . . we have one coming in with a slight surplus this year,” said Wolf.
The budget is nearly a thousand pages, so it will take time for lawmakers and the public to digest.