Tax Hikes: Wolf’s White Whale

Note: Versions of this op-ed were published in the Pottstown Mercury, York Dispatch, Bucks County Courier Times, and at PennLive.

Wednesday’s vote on Gov. Wolf’s tax scheme was latest in a long line of political gimmicks aimed at reeling-in Wolf’s white whale: paradigm-shifting tax increases on Pennsylvania families and small businesses.  

Fortunately, the House of Representatives dealt Wolf’s proposal a stunning rebuke. It was defeated 127-73, with nearly a dozen Democrats bucking the governor and voting against his massive tax increase.

Wolf’s latest tax and spending plan would have forced a $750-per-family-of-four tax increase by hiking the state’s personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.57 percent. The vast majority of the money generated by his defeated tax plan would have come from the incomes of working families and job creators across the state.

What is the sticking point in negotiations between the governor and the legislature? Ask anyone from the Wolf administration, and they’ll point to education funding as the sticking point in budget negotiations. Wolf claims to have “worked hard to compromise” only to be “met with obstruction” from legislative leaders.

Pesky as they are, the facts tell a different story.

Wednesday’s vote came after Wolf vetoed emergency funding legislation to ease the painful financial pressure on schools and service providers dependent on state dollars. Why would Wolf withhold funding from the likes of cancer screening, domestic violence programs, and school transportation?

In truth, the House and Senate offered Wolf a series of concessions—particularly on education funding—only to be met with fierce resistance from the administration. It is Wolf’s laser-like fixation on tax increases that obstructs agreement on a state budget.

Consider the timeline of events since Wolf’s inauguration. Although Pennsylvania already spends more than $15,000 per student each year, Wolf’s signature campaign pledge was to increase state aid to public schools. In his March budget address, he requested an additional $400 million in basic education funding, along with a bevy of tax hikes on everything from diapers to daycare to funeral services. Wolf’s budget featured higher tax increases than the combined total of all other 49 states.

In June, the House and Senate agreed to a no-tax-hike budget that increased basic education by $100 million and set a new record-high in public school funding. Was it everything Wolf asked for? No; but it was a reasonable compromise from a legislative body tasked with responsibly navigating important state needs.

Wolf promptly vetoed this bill containing record education spending and a fair funding formula that has been universally applauded as sensible public policy.

Weeks later, legislative leaders presented the governor yet another compromise: The House and Senate would meet Wolf’s request for $400 million in new education spending, contingent on modest pension reform and liquor privatization. Notably, this proposal continued to shield working Pennsylvanians from painful tax increases.

Again, Wolf rejected the offer. A budget without tax hikes would not suffice—even one that provided every dime the governor requested for basic education.

What may have begun as a quest to boost public school funding clearly has morphed into an obsession with higher taxes. $100 million in new education funding? $400 million? Unless it’s accompanied by massive tax increases, it’s not good enough for Wolf.

While Wolf likes to claim his tax hike on natural gas drillers would provide revenue for local school districts, his severance tax is not actually dedicated to public schools. Instead, it’s earmarked for “alternative energy subsidies” and other carve outs for corporate welfare before schools get one cent. Not to mention the vast majority of Wolf’s new tax hikes comes from working families, not the gas industry.

Leading up to Wednesday’s tax vote, the governor rejected offer after offer that would increase school spending to record levels—yet Wolf insists education funding is standing in the way of a state budget. In a Monday morning press conference, Wolf even declared “If I lose Wednesday, Pennsylvania loses.”

The truth is, Wednesday’s loss for Wolf’s tax scheme was a big victory for Pennsylvania taxpayers, who will now save $750.

Make no mistake: Wolf’s fixation on tax hikes is the real culprit for Pennsylvania’s three month-long (and counting) budget standoff.

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James Paul is a senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation (, Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.