The Brief: Wolf Primed to Blow the House (and Senate) Down?

At 11:30 a.m., the Gov will unleash a big and bold new agenda.

Tom Wolf

All eyes on Tom Wolf.

At 11:30 a.m. this morning, Pennsylvania’s new Governor will propose a budget—really a governing agenda—that is expected to be more sweeping and ambitious than anything to have come out of the governor’s mansion in quite some time. At its core, reports suggest, is Wolf’s plan to fundamentally restructure the state’s approach to taxes, and to squeeze enough new revenue out of the overhaul to both close a $2 billion deficit and sink significant new dollars into school districts across the Pennsylvania.

Today’s address is crucial, if his plan is to have any chance of success. Wolf clearly needs to frame his agenda as reform, rather than a series of big tax hikes. And that’s something he can plausibly do, because while he is pitching a new tax on shale gas extraction, and (almost certainly) significant increases in both the personal income tax and (probably) the sales tax, he’s pairing those hikes with proposed cuts to the corporate tax rate and to local property taxes (in Philadelphia, the cuts would be to the wage tax). Look for Wolf to sell this as a tax mix that will both a) make Pennsylvania more competitive and b) allow the state to make investments in public education.

Will Republicans give his pitch a real hearing? John L. Micek says maybe.

While they’re all but guaranteed to draw the line at Wolf’s tax increases, and have already said they want to see a pension fix before they’ll consider new revenues, Senate Republicans are still hardly acting like Dr. No when it comes to Wolf’s agenda.

More like Dr. Maybe … thanks, at least in part, to Wolf’s plans to cut some onerous business taxes.

“There are going to be parts of the proposal that we are going to be interested in,” Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher conceded. “Our concern is that we can’t tax our way out of this [$2 billion deficit]. We need to see a willingness to provide relief to Pennsylvania by looking at structural deficit problems.”

Either way, the implications for Philadelphia are huge. If Wolf succeeds, and wins wage/property tax reductions plus a meaningful increase in school funding, well, damn; it’s hard to think of a better mix for the city than financially stable schools and lower wage taxes (something similar can said for lots of other towns too, of course). Conversely, if Wolf flops, if the budget that’s passed manages only to close the deficit and contains little more than a few new drops for schools, then it’s more of the same school-throttling status quo for Philadelphia.

Don’t miss…

  • Also on Wolf’s agenda? Tougher regulation of charter schools.
  • Gerrymandering is a confusing concept, but it’s niftily explained in this graphic from Wonkblog (which was in turn adapted from one on Reddit). Are Pennsylvania’s comically gerrymandered districts mentioned? Prominently.
  • The incredible, vanishing Philadelphia Republican party.
  • Tom Wolf’s sacking of Bill Green as chairman of the School Reform Commission drew fire from GOP Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, shrugs from the Democratic mayoral candidates and charges from Green that his ouster will embolden the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers at the bargaining table.