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

Because you know he's not going to get everything in his historically ambitious proposal.

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:

1. First, We Have to State the Obvious: Wolf’s Budget Isn’t Passing As Is

Wolf’s budget is revolutionary, and, as Madonna puts it, “the Pennsylvania legislature has never been very reform-minded.”

Wolf is also a Democrat who wants to jack up taxes and government spending. (To be fair, he wants to cut property and corporate net income taxes, too.) The state legislature is controlled by Republicans who have their eye on lower taxes, pension reform and liquor system privatization. Something’s gotta give.

“Do I think it’s going to pass as he sent it? No,” says Madonna. “Do I think there’s bits and pieces of it they’ll enact? Yes.”

2. Wolf Has a Shot at Boosting Education Funding

Keeping good on his campaign promise, Wolf has proposed spending an extra $1 billion on early, basic and higher education in the coming year.

Madonna says a significant boost in education funding is “reasonably” doable, though the final number likely won’t be $1 billion.

“Even Republicans have talked about [additional schools funding],” says Madonna. “That’s very popular with voters. It was the single-most important issue in the gubernatorial campaign. Of all the things he wants to do, I think increased education spending is doable.”

3. If History Is Any Indication, Wolf Could Maybe Raise the Personal Income Tax

To pay for his giant property-tax relief plan, Wolf wants to hike the personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, and boost the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.6 percent.

Madonna says history is on Wolf’s side when it comes to raising the personal income tax. It happened under Govs. Milton Shapp (under whom the tax was actually created), Richard “Dick” Thornburgh, Robert Casey and Ed Rendell, he notes, particularly in times of financial distress for the state. Currently, Pennsylvania is facing a budget deficit of between $1.5 billion and $2.3 billion.

4. If History Is Any Indication, Wolf Probably Won’t Be Able to Raise the Sales Tax

“I would probably rule that out,” says Madonna. “The sales tax has not been hiked, except for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, since 1979.”

5. To Be Honest, Though, This Is All Hard to Predict

Nearly every major part of Wolf’s budget depends on other parts of it. To cut property taxes, Wolf wants to pass an increase in both the personal income tax and the sales tax. He’s also proposed cutting corporate net income taxes, perhaps as a way to get the GOP and business leaders to support his plan to raise the minimum wage.

“What he’s done is put together a comprehensive package, the purpose of which is to get a majority vote, so he does a mix and match of things the Republicans have wanted over the years,” says Madonna. “If you start pulling bits of it apart, it all falls apart.”

That makes it tough to figure out, in a vacuum, what will and won’t likely pass.

The bottom line, according to Madonna: “It’s going to be an enormous struggle.”

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