Ex­trac­tion tax pri­or­ity for Wolf, if re-elected

The Times-Tribune - - LOCAL - Con­tact the writer: bkrawcze­niuk@timessham­rock.com; 570-348-9147; @Bo­rys­blogtt on Twit­ter BY BO­RYS KRAWCZENIUK STAFF WRITER

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to ask the state Gen­eral Assem­bly again next year to pass a tax on nat­u­ral gas ex­trac­tion if he’s re-elected.

Wolf said the state needs to fo­cus on more money for ed­u­ca­tion, se­nior cit­i­zen health care and opi­oid abuse treat­ment. Each ranks among his five pri­or­i­ties for his next four years with cre­at­ing jobs and boost­ing in­tegrity in govern­ment round­ing out the list, Wolf said dur­ing a meet­ing with The Timestri­bune ed­i­to­rial board.

Wolf, a Demo­crat from York County, seeks a sec­ond four-year term. He faces trash-hauling busi­ness­man Scott Wag­ner, a for­mer state sen­a­tor who also lives in York County; Paul Glover, a Green from Philadel­phia; and Ken­neth V. Krawchuk, a Lib­er­tar­ian from Mont­gomery County. The job pays $194,850 a year, but Wolf has de­clined to take the salary.

Wolf pro­posed an ex­trac­tion tax, also known as a sev­er­ance tax, in each of his four bud­gets, but Repub­li­cans balked.

“I would put a sev­er­ance tax on top of the (ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral gas) im­pact fee and the com­bi­na­tion of those two should be in line with (what’s) ... in line with ev­ery­body else (other states),” the gover­nor said.

Wolf said he re­versed the state’s $1 bil­lion re­duc­tion in pub­lic school ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing un­der Gov. Tom Cor­bett and bal­anced the state bud­get, which he said will not end in a deficit next year.

“We’re mov­ing in an 180 de­grees dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than when I got there,” he said. “I put money into the Rainy Day Fund, first time in 11 years. It wasn’t a lot, $22 mil­lion, but there was only $246,000 there when I put it in or some­thing like that . ... I am not go­ing to have to bor­row a penny to keep the lights on.”

Wolf said he and Repub­li­cans con­tinue to dis­cuss ways to re­duce school prop­erty taxes, but said he doesn’t think state Sen. David Ar­gall’s plan to elim­i­nate and ban re-im­po­si­tion of prop­erty taxes will work. Ar­gall pro­poses swap­ping a higher in­come tax and a higher and ex­panded sales tax for prop­erty tax elim­i­na­tion.

A ban could re­duce lo­cal con­trol of schools, Wolf said, and an al­ter­na­tive could be let­ting vot­ers de­cide on prop­erty tax hikes. The state al­ready al­lows a form of that. Vot­ers must ap­prove tax hikes higher than a rate set an­nu­ally by the state.

“We need to do some­thing in a re­spon­si­ble way to help folks who are be­ing thrown out of their homes be­cause they can’t pay their prop­erty taxes,” he said.

In his first bud­get, fac­ing an over­whelm­ingly Repub­li­can leg­is­la­ture, Wolf pro­posed im­pos­ing an ex­trac­tion tax and rais­ing in­come and sales taxes in ex­change for more ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing and low­er­ing school prop­erty taxes. The re­sult was a nine-month im­passe that ended only when the assem­bly passed the bud­get and Wolf let it be­come law with­out sign­ing it.

Wolf called that process “shock treat­ment” and said it sig­naled “we’re go­ing to be do­ing things dif­fer­ently.”

He and Repub­li­cans still “poke each other in the eye,” but they have learned to get things done, he said.

As his ac­com­plish­ments, he cited “his­toric amounts of money for ed­u­ca­tion,” ex­panded Med­i­caid, se­cured more money for opi­oid abuse treat­ment, le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana and mod­ern­ized the liquor store sys­tem.

JA­SON FARMER / STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks Thurs­day to mem­bers of The Times-tri­bune ed­i­to­rial board.

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