HARRISBURG — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his budget plan Tuesday, renewing battles with the Republican-controlled Legislature over imposing a tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas and increasing the minimum wage.
The plan, which is presented in his fourth and final term, proposed boosting spending by about $1 billion, or 3 percent, to $33 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
In his address, he proposed directing the higher spending to public schools, skills training, pension obligations, prison costs and social services for children, the elderly and disabled.
The budget holds the line or delivers small increases for many services and agencies. He also seeks to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour, keep sales and income taxes as they are, and re-upped his fight for a Marcellus Shale gas tax.
Local lawmakers reactions include:
- “Proposing no broad-based tax increases is a welcome change of tune for the governor. I applaud him for coming to the realization those votes don’t exist on either side of the aisle in the House,” said Rep. Tommy Sankey (R-Clearfield/Cambria). “The governor once again wants to further tax the natural gas industry, and in turn increase customers’ energy bills. He quickly notes we are the only major gas-producing state that lacks a severance tax, but ignores the fact that our existing impact fee — which is a tax — generates more tax revenue than the combined severance taxes of Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio and West Virginia.”
- “I agree with the governor that more attention needs to be placed on workforce development and career and technical education — that’s where the jobs are. I am greatly encouraged by people who want to work in technical careers and trades,” Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) said. “But this governor cannot continue to target a growing industry because he thinks there won’t be consequences felt here at home. That’s just not reality in the shale areas.”
- “It’s also encouraging to see the governor is not calling for any broad-based income or sales tax hikes in this year’s plan. However, looking at the budget from the perspective of the rural communities I represent, I do have some concerns. First, the governor is proposing to increase spending to $33 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of $1 billion over the current year. We need to do a better job of keeping spending in check and respecting the taxpayers who foot the bill,” said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint).“As chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, I am concerned by some of the cuts the governor has proposed, particularly the elimination of funding for hardwoods development, which plays an important role in the advancement of our timber industry.” In his statements Causer also supported his disagreement with the Marcellus Shale severance tax and the $25 per person fee for communities who rely solely on state police protection.
- Rep. Chris Dush (R- Jefferson/Indiana) could not be reached by press time.
Despite their initial reactions, all of the representatives acknowledged that this is a starting point in budget talks and were looking forward to the discussions to be held in the coming months.
Three weeks of budget hearings begin Feb. 20.