HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – More details of Gov. Tom Wolf’s forthcoming budget proposal emerged Monday, as top Democratic lawmakers said Wolf’s ambitious proposal must be considered as a whole, rather than as pieces.
The Wolf administration has not released many details. But Democrats who have had discussions with Wolf administration officials expressed support for a plan that they expect will seek substantial increases in education funding, significant cuts in school property taxes and a solution to a $2 billion-plus funding hole.
“This is a comprehensive plan that the governor will be rolling out as we go forward,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said. “And that’s what’s important here: Recognize that there are parts of this plan that all go together in order to have us do what the people have asked this governor to do. So it’s all together.”
Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, called Wolf’s proposal “very bold, very ambitious, very responsible.”
The budget, at $29 billion for this fiscal year, could eclipse $30 billion for the first time, if Wolf meets his campaign pledges to increase education by $1 billion or more and to fully fund the state’s rising pension obligations. Wolf already has said he would seek corporate tax cuts and higher taxes on natural gas drilling.
In addition to the budget, Wolf is expected to propose an income tax increase, as he proposed during his campaign, in what could be a multibillion-dollar aid package to help reduce school property taxes and shift a portion of the school funding burden onto the state. It is not clear how any property tax aid would be distributed, or whether districts would have to meet conditions before receiving it.
As part of the tax relief, Costa and Hughes expected Wolf to propose an expansion of a program that currently offers subsidies for rent or property taxes for the elderly and disabled.
Separately, Wolf will propose a $49.6 million increase for Penn State, an administration official with knowledge of the governor’s first budget told The Associated Press on Monday.
That is about 23 percent more than the $214 million Penn State is getting from the state this year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the administration did not want spending proposals discussed publicly until Tuesday’s budget address.
The increase would be the first substantial boost for the university since it took a hit of more than $60 million four years ago in then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s first budget.
All told, Wolf faces a budget gap of more than $3 billion.
The $29 billion budget that he inherited is filled with more than $2 billion in one-time stopgaps that he must decide how to replace. Combined with rising pension payments mandated by a 2010 law and the rising cost of health care for the poor, debt and prisons, he must address more than $1 billion in new costs.
He could get help from better-than-expected tax collections: through February, the state had collected $17.4 billion, which was $378 million ahead of expectations. If the positive trend continues through the state government’s biggest tax-collection months of March, April and May, that number could rise.
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