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Gov. Tom Wolf pushes budget plan in front of hometown crowd

Written by Ed Mahon/York Daily Record | Jul 30, 2015 4:59 AM
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Photo by Chris Dunn/Daily Record/Sunday News

"We have to invest in education," Governor Tom Wolf said to a lunch meeting attendees at the Rotary Club of York Wednesday.

(York) -- Governor Tom Wolf returned to familiar territory Wednesday.

He spoke at The Yorktowne Hotel -- a property his former business used to partially own. The host was the Rotary Club of York -- a group that his father used to be the president of.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, one of the local politicians in the crowd, said Wolf was probably personal friends with two-thirds of the people in the room, if not more.

At the start of the Rotary Club of York meeting, the club's president, Dr. Marsha Bornt, gave him an honorary membership and invited him to speak at another event for the group's centennial year celebration.

"It is really good to be home again," Wolf, a York County Democrat, told the crowd.

Here are four things to know about Wolf's visit.

1. Budget meeting with Republican leaders

Wolf and his Jeep arrived at The Yorktowne Hotel early.

The governor met with Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, and House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, before the club meeting. Neither the Republicans or Wolf would go into detail about the discussions.

"We had good discussions," Corman said, but added that they are "a long, long way from any sort of agreement."

Corman has said members of his caucus are opposed to any sort of broad-based tax increase.

Reed said they spent about an hour-and-a-half with the governor "talking about a variety of budget-related issues, you know, everything from pensions, education, liquor privatization -- a whole host of issues to try to move this ball forward." Reed called the talks "productive."

Republicans introduced a $30.18 billion spending plan in late June, passed most of it in the following days, but Wolf vetoed their spending plan and related bills.

2. Wolf's father

Wolf told the crowd that his father had "a small heart attack" Wednesday morning, so Wolf's father, mother and wife were all at a hospital.

"But he's fine," Wolf said, "and he's sorry he couldn't be here. ... Rotary's been such a big part of his life. ... And I'm sorry he's not here, because that would be at least one more friendly face in the audience."

Bornt said Bill Wolf is the longest-standing member of the local club. Bill Wolf, a Dartmouth graduate, is a former leader of the Wolf Organization, a York-based kitchen cabinet and building products business that Tom Wolf also led. After Wednesday's meeting, Wolf said he was going back to the hospital to see how his father was doing.

3. Wolf's speech

The governor pushed for increased education funding and made his pitch for an extraction tax on natural gas drilling, saying it would raise more money than the state's current impact fee and that other gas-producing states have such taxes.

He called for reducing school district property taxes, which he has proposed doing by increasing the personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, raising the state sales and use tax from 6 percent to 6.6 percent, and expanding what's covered by the state sales tax.

"I think we need to do it, because if we don't, we're going to continue to have more and more unfair pressure on local property owners," Wolf said.

Wolf has criticized the Republican-backed budget plan, and he said budget gimmicks have led to credit downgrades that are costing the state more to borrow.

Wolf called his proposal "the York County option" and said it was practical.

"It's not ideological," he said.

4. What a local Republican senator said

Wolf joked about all of the friendly faces in the crowd. He said that was true even though state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, was in the crowd. That line drew laughs.

Wagner has been a frequent critic of the governor, and he leads a political action committee that has aired TV ads criticizing Wolf's budget plan. Meanwhile, pro-Wolf and anti-Wagner mailers have gone out in the Republican's district.

After Wolf spoke, Wagner said the governor ignored the state's unfunded pension problem.

"He doesn't want to acknowledge there's a pension problem," Wagner said.

Wagner said the pension problems are to blame for the credit downgrades Wolf mentioned.

Wolf vetoed a Republican-backed pension plan that would have shifted many future state and public school employees into a hybrid 401(k)-style and cash balance plan, instead of the current defined benefit pension.

Wolf has proposed his own ideas for addressing pension costs, including borrowing $3 billion and using proceeds from investing those pension obligation bonds to pay money due for pensions.

Wagner said you can't borrow your way out of the problem.

"There's a saying in business," Wagner said. "When you're in a hole ... at some point, you gotta stop digging."


This article comes to us through a partnership between York Daily Record and WITF.

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