What Tom Wolf Wants in His Big, Bold Budget — and What He’s Likely to Get

Gov. Wolf | Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Gov. Wolf | Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Gov. Tom Wolf‘s budget “contains the most ambitious and bold set of proposals in modern history.”

That’s according to Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College who has been watching state budget battles for the past 35 years. Wolf wants to boost educating spending, raise some taxes, cut other taxes, and increase the minimum wage.

We asked Madonna what parts of Wolf’s budget could realistically pass in the GOP-controlled state legislature, and what’ll likely end up dying. Let’s break this down point by point:

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Councilman Jones: Nutter’s Property Tax Hike Proposal a “Heavy Lift”

Councilman Curtis Jones. Photo | City Council Flickr

Councilman Curtis Jones Jr.; Photo | City Council Flickr

Before Mayor Michael Nutter even gave his final budget address Thursday, there were signs his plan to raise property taxes was on life support.

Nutter is going to propose this morning a 9.3 percent increase in the property tax rate to provide an infusion of cash to the city’s financially troubled schools. The Philadelphia School District is facing an $80 million budget deficit in 2015-16, and has asked the city for an extra $103 million.

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Tom Wolf’s Incredible Plan to Overhaul Philly Taxes

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Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled his first budget plan for Pennsylvania Tuesday, and it’s nothing if not ambitious.

What got a little lost in the coverage of Wolf’s budget address, though, is that he is also proposing big changes for Philadelphia’s local taxes. The Wolf administration says his budget would provide about $538 million in tax relief for the city, which would be funded by his planned hike on statewide personal income and sales taxes. Here are the specifics, via Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan, which he says would all go into effect in 2016-17:

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State Senators Art Haywood, Vincent Hughes Propose 8 Percent Shale Tax

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Two Philadelphia-area Democrats have unveiled their plan to tax natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale.

Sens. Art Haywood and Vincent Hughes announced their proposal at a Thursday afternoon press conference. Their plan would impose an 8 percent severance tax and a 1.9 percent “impact fee.” 

The 8 percent tax would be expected to bring more than $1 billion in new state revenues just during the first year — of that, $100 million would be set aside for the “Growing Greener” environmental protection program, after which 60 percent would be distributed to public schools and the other 40 percent to shore up the state’s underfunded pension fund for public workers.

“It has become increasingly clear that our public education system is woefully underfunded and our unfunded pension liability continues to grow,” Haywood said in a memorandum seeking cosponsors for the bill. “These financial challenges are needless in light of the natural richness of our commonwealth. We cannot afford to continue to ignore the resources in our own backyard.”
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Natural Gas Price Plummets, But Fracking Tax Still a Wolf Priority

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States that depend on energy resources to power their economies and budgets are tightening their belts as the prices of oil and natural gas fall, but that won’t — and maybe shouldn’t — stand in the way of a new fracking tax in Pennsylvania, officials say.

Governor-elect Tom Wolf, who takes office in two weeks, won election in part on a promise to impose a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas production in Pennsylvania and use the revenues — he estimated as much as $1 billion — to restore funding to the state’s K-12 public schools. But a “glut” of natural gas production is driving prices lower, and Wall Street is casting a dubious eye on companies making big drilling investments in the Marcellus Shale.

Which raises the question: Did Pennsylvania — the only gas-producing state without an extraction tax — miss its moment to tax the fracking industry for the best benefit of its citizens?

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Christine Flowers Defends U.S. Citizenship in New York Times

A week ago, the New York Times published an op-ed by Jonathan Tepper titled “Why I’m Giving Up My Passport.” The economist, who insists he is “not a tycoon”, says tax laws are too onerous for him to continue being a citizen.

“If America makes it so difficult to be American, I’ll happily just be British,” he wrote. Tepper has spent just eight of his 38 years living in the U.S. and has voted in only one presidential election, so it doesn’t seem like that much of a loss for the country.

Yesterday, responding to the article was none other than local columnist and lawyer Christine Flowers, who actually opens her two-paragraph letter with a Peggy Noonan-style personal anecdote.

Life is filled with ironies. Stopping by a Starbucks after a hearing in immigration court, I opened up the paper and read the essay by Jonathan Tepper explaining that he was renouncing his United States citizenship because of tax filing requirements. At a cerebral level, I could appreciate if not agree with his fiscal reasons for relinquishing his passport.

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Montco Township Facing $3.2 Million Deficit

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Franconia Township, in Montgomery County near the border with Bucks, recently told its residents it had racked up $3.2 million in budget deficits since 2011. The township has around 13,000 residents.

The Inquirer reports on a raucous — well, raucous for a suburban supervisors meeting in a township of 13,000 — meeting held earlier this month where township supervisors voted to lay off a third of its employees (including six cops, though two were part-time) and raise taxes 19 percent.

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Airbender Movie Given Pa. Tax Credits for California Work

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M. Night Shyamalan is a hometown boy: He has long favored shooting his movies in and around Philadelphia. The problem for his 2010 flick, The Last Airbender, is that it was an effects-driven film that would be conjured largely inside a computer — and the kinds of computers that do that work are largely in California.

No problem for Shyamalan, nor for his studio Paramount Pictures. The physical movie was shot here, the visual effects were produced in San Francisco — and the movie claimed a Pennsylvania credit for the work done in California.
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