HARRISBURG (KDKA) — Ambitious, gutsy, bold – these are the adjectives supporters used to describe Gov. Tom Wolf’s first budget presented to the state legislature on Tuesday.
“The proposal I’m unveiling today is a different kind of budget,” Wolf told lawmakers.
It’s a $29.9 billion balanced budget that cuts some taxes and raises others — and makes education a top priority.
“If Pennsylvania is going to be one of the best places to get an education, we can no longer afford to be one of the worst in funding our schools,” declared Wolf.
Wolf said his budget restores cuts to school districts, and he singled out a teacher who was furloughed during the Corbett years.
“My budget puts teachers like Katie back in the classroom,” he said.
Simultaneously, Wolf said it was time to dramatically reduce property taxes.
“Overall, my budget will reduce the average homeowner’s property taxes by 50 percent, putting more than $1,000 each into their pockets.”
Shortly after his address, KDKA political editor Jon Delano spoke directly to the governor.
Delano: “Governor, when I talk to folks here in western Pennsylvania, nobody, nobody believes you can actually deliver a 50 percent cut in property taxes.”
Wolf: “First of all, I can reduce it 50 percent because that’s what I’m proposing and I’m using the property tax and rent rebate formulas. I’m actually doing that.”
But to deliver lower property taxes and more money for schools, Wolf proposed three tax increases: a 5 percent Marcellus shale tax, a 6.6 percent sales tax, and a 3.7 percent income tax.
Wolf says, on balance, taxes go down for every homeowner who makes under $100,000.
“If you make $65,000 a year, on average, you’re going to have about a 13 percent decrease in your taxes. If you make less than that, you’ll save more,” noted the governor.
But Republican leaders — who control the General Assembly — focused on proposed tax hikes.
“A 20 percent increase in the personal income tax — a 10 percent increase in the sales tax,” said House Speaker Mike Turzai of Marshall.
To pay for increased funding for education and a reduction in property taxes, Wolf has proposed a higher sales and income tax rate.
Turzai panned the governor’s proposal.
“It was so old school, more money, more taxes, more borrowing, and no out-of-the-box thinking,” he said.
But Wolf told KDKA political editor Jon Delano that he’s not surprised by the Republican reaction.
“I think this is expected, and I’m sure they’re going to roll up their sleeves and we’ll roll up our sleeves and get together,” said Wolf. “But I think they’re going to have a tough time pushing back against the core elements of this which is cutting property taxes.”
The governor says the Republican legislature cannot support part of his budget — like the big reductions he proposed in business taxes — while rejecting other parts.
“It’s part of an overall package and what I’m doing is shifting the whole system to a much fairer approach to taxes,” said Wolf. “So yeah, it’s a package. You can’t cherry pick it or the math starts not working.”
The legislature has until June 30 to pass a budget the governor will sign.