Note: This commentary was published in the (Allentown) Morning Call, the (Pottstown) Mercury, the (Bloomsburg) Press-Enterprise, the (York) Daily Record, the (Carlisle) Sentinel, the (Wayne) Independent, the Phoenix Reporter & Item, the (Delaware County) Daily Times, the (York) Dispatch, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Bucks County Courier Times, and at PennLive.
Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a budget with a spending rate clocking in at a blistering $1,000 per second. That means in the time it takes you to read this article, say three minutes, state government would spend a stunning $180,000. And the governor is looking at you to pay for it with a $4.5 billion tax increase—the largest in state history.
Gov. Wolf is also calling for more than $2.5 billion in new General Fund spending—an increase of nearly 9 percent. This massive tax-and-spend plan represents the largest percentage spending increase in 24 years and could cost a family of four more than $1,400 per year in additional taxes. Income taxes, sales taxes, tobacco taxes, natural gas taxes, taxes on banks and lottery winners, and more would all go up under Wolf’s plan.
Wolf does plan to cut corporate taxes and property taxes, but the promised property tax relief wouldn’t occur until 2016 and is dwarfed by his state tax increases. Pennsylvanians will pay higher taxes now for a promise of tax relief later, with no guarantee that property taxes won’t continue to skyrocket.
Even if homeowners receive the maximum amount of property tax relief under Wolf’s plan, the net tax increase would still surpass $4.3 billion in 2016-2017. This would add to Pennsylvania’s already high tax burden, stifle economic growth, and diminish opportunities for working families to improve their quality of life.
What will we get for all these new taxes? Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to education and corporate welfare—areas where more money doesn’t always translate to better outcomes.
Let’s tackle the issue of education first. State spending on education is already at an all-time high, and Pennsylvania spends $3,000 more per student than the national average. Yet, Gov. Wolf wants to spend more on education even though there is no clear correlation between education spending and achievement. More dollars do not lead to more scholars.
What has helped students succeed? School choice. Improving schools requires empowering parents and students—not government—with the right to choose what’s best for themselves.
As for Gov. Wolf’s ideas to revitalize Pennsylvania’s economy, they aren’t bold or new—they’re really just more of the same. He wants to devote millions of dollars to corporate welfare programs, based on the faulty premise that government can pick winners and losers.
In practice, individuals are best equipped to spend, save, and invest their own money—not distant bureaucrats. Why should an entrepreneur who has sacrificed his time, money, and energy have the fruits of his labor taxed away by government and given to his competitors under the guise of stimulating the economy? There’s nothing fair about this system, but that’s the idea behind corporate welfare. Not surprisingly, it has not been a useful tool for economic growth.
Wolf’s radical expansion in the size and scope of government highlights a larger problem: a lack of trust in Pennsylvanians. He believes government should take the lead in education, not parents. He thinks bureaucrats should make funding decisions and choose winners and losers in the marketplace, not private sector workers and entrepreneurs.
For someone who says Pennsylvanians lack self-esteem, Gov. Wolf seems all too willing to take decision-making power away from hard-working families.
This approach undermines the very notion of economic freedom—the idea that individuals should be able to create, innovate, and serve others in a market free of punitive government restrictions. Free enterprise is the only way to raise the standard of living for people of all income levels, and it’s what will propel Pennsylvania out of the economic doldrums.
If Gov. Wolf wants to enable all Pennsylvanians to flourish, he can do it by reducing the tax burden on our families, eliminating burdensome regulations on businesses, and controlling government spending.
Expect great things if Pennsylvania entrusts its citizens to do what’s best for themselves, their families, and their communities. If, instead, we try taxing our way to prosperity, we won’t be the first state to have made the attempt, but we would be the first to succeed.
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Bob Dick is a policy analyst with the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.