Pennsylvania Lawmakers To Work Weekend In Budget StalemateBy Jon Delano

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) – Speaking at the African American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf was cautiously optimistic.

“Let me just start with a brief update on the budget. We’re going to get one.”

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As the crowd laughed, he added, “Thank you, thank you.”

It has been a long ordeal, as the Republican-controlled legislature and the Democratic governor have clashed over spending priorities and taxes.

Wolf says the sides are close but still, “I don’t know football analogies but five yard line sounds about right. But sometimes those goal line stands are tough.”

Following the event, Wolf conceded there are still some potential glitches.

“We’re working. It’s just divided government. It takes time, and there are some big issues at stake here like education, like making sure we have the revenues to balance to pay for the public goods we need to invest in, and that’s important. I think we’re close.”

 

With a structural built-in deficit hole to fill and the governor’s pledge of more money for education to meet, it’s come down to taxes.

As KDKA political editor Jon Delano has previously reported, off the table is any increase in the income tax rate, the sales tax rate and a Marcellus Shale tax.

But on the table is a hike in cigarette taxes, taxing e-cigarettes, and imposing the sales tax, for the first time, on certain personal services like haircuts, manicures, and admission tickets to movies, the performing arts, ski slopes, and bowling alleys.

Wolf would not get specific on what, if anything, he and Republican leaders have agreed should be taxed, but he defended expanding the sales tax.

“The broadening the base of the sales tax — to a large extent we’re doing what we should have been doing before and that is modernizing, bringing our sales tax up to date,” he said.

But we’ve heard it all before – a deal to end the 5-month impasse on a state budget for Pennsylvania.

Delano: “Is the end in sight?”

Wolf: “Yeah. Someone said the five yard line. I think the majority leader of the Senate said we’re 90 percent done. Of course, the last 10 percent is a lot of tough issues.”

Wolf wants a balanced budget without one-time gimmicks and more spending for public education.

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But how to pay for that has stymied Harrisburg.

Wolf was asked about the latest plan to raise revenue by lifting the sales tax exemption on some services and products even if current tax rates remain the same.

Wolf: “There is no sales tax increase. There is no personal income tax on the table at this point.”

Delano: “But you are, in effect, raising taxes on certain items by eliminating the exemptions.”

Wolf: “Yes, that is true, the broadening of the base of the sales tax.”

Wolf would not confirm if he and Republican leaders have reached an agreement on what to tax — like haircuts, parking lot fees, movie tickets, and admissions to things from the arts to bowling alleys.

“We can have a robust conversation about what should be in and what should be out, and this is one time I think that conversation makes sense.”

One thing the governor has done to save money — he’s mothballed the state plane for his travel.

Wolf: “Yeah. That’s true. I left York County this morning, came out by car, going back by car this afternoon.”

Delano: “So you never use the state plane?”

Wolf: “No, I haven’t since we decided to have a travel ban.”

 

Wolf joined the “KDKA Morning News” Tuesday to explain the progress being made on a potential state budget.

After five months and counting without a state budget, Gov. Wolf says negotiators in Harrisburg may be close to reaching a deal. Not many details of the budget have been revealed, but Gov. Wolf stated that there will be a, “historic investment in education,” and that the, “agreement calls for liquor reform.”

Gov. Wolf also explained that there will be, “a broadening of the base,” for sales tax, as it, “needs to be brought up to date.”

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