Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf puts on a Philadelphia Eagles hat to celebrate their Super Bowl win before he gives his budget address at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)
Ed Mahon comes to Spotlight PA from PA Post, where he covered state politics and policy, produced radio stories that were broadcast on public media stations throughout the state and on NPR’s national newscasts, and co-wrote a weekday newsletter. Prior to joining PA Post, Ed worked for six years as an investigative and political reporter for the York Daily Record, part of the USA Today Network. His reporting on failures in Pennsylvania’s system for protecting domestic abuse victims was a finalist in the national 2018 Livingston Awards for Young Journalists in the local reporting category. He was also part of a team whose coverage of the criminal justice system, including the aggressive use of civil asset forfeiture by York County prosecutors, received the 2018 G. Richard Dew Award for Journalistic Service from the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. Before joining the York Daily Record, Ed covered K-12 education at the Centre Daily Times in State College and worked as a stringer for suburban sections of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Gov. Tom Wolf will give the first budget address of his second term on Tuesday.
Here’s what to know and what to watch for.
The big question: How ambitious will Wolf be?
That is what Chris Borick, a pollster and political science professor at Muhlenberg College, is wondering.
Wolf, a Democrat, won re-election by a wide margin in 2018. But he is still facing a Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“This is his window, in some ways, to try and push for some bigger ticket items,” Borick said, later adding, “I’m interested to see if he’s willing to stick his neck out a little bit.”
The tone: Last year, Wolf started the speech by putting on a green Philadelphia Eagles hat.
This year, the Eagles didn’t reach the Super Bowl. So a unity hat move seems unlikely.
And the question is whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Wolf are looking to take a hard line in upcoming budget negotiations.
The deficit: In November, the state’s Independent Fiscal Office projected a $1.7 billion budget deficit for the 2019-20 fiscal year. That deficit is driven in part by rising costs and an aging population, the IFO concluded.
But the situation might not be as bad as that figure suggests.
Republican leaders and the Wolf administration have said they don’t believe the deficit will be as large as the IFO forecasts.
And Matthew Knittel, director of the office, said that $1.7 billion deficit figure assumes no one-time measures are used to balance the budget, such as payment delays, temporary transfers or shifting sources of funding.
Taxes: In his first budget address, Wolf proposed major tax changes.
He wanted to raise the personal income tax rate, raise the sales tax rate, expand what is covered by the sales tax, lower the corporate net income tax rate and reduce property taxes. Those big changes didn’t pass.
“Four years ago, he went for the moon in terms of major structural reforms and ended up getting nowhere,” Borick said.
Instead, Republicans and Wolf agreed agreed on a number budget transfers and targeted tax increases, such as raising and expanding tobacco taxes, expanding the sales tax to cover digital downloads, and expanding the personal income tax to include Pennsylvania Lottery winnings. They also expanded gambling.
Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2017-18 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, is at left, and Lt. Gov. Michael Stack, is at right.
The measures failed to gain much traction. The question is whether Wolf will bring back that idea — or other targeted measures.
Education spending: In 2014, Wolf’s campaign focused on raising education spending. And since he’s been in office, lawmakers have approved hundreds of millions of dollars more for schools.
It’s not clear how much Wolf will seek for education funding in this upcoming budget address, although in a Friday email, Wolf’s press secretary, J.J. Abbott, indicated it would remain a top priority.
Severance tax: Wolf has proposed a severance tax in all four budgets. None of those severance tax proposals passed.
Last week, ahead of the budget address, Wolf proposed a $4.5 billion package to send money directly to infrastructure improvements. The plan relies on a severance tax on natural gas drilling and borrowing money, and it is being introduced separately from the annual budget process.
House Republican leaders released a statement opposing the idea.
“The governor’s proposal includes three of the worst ways to grow an economy: taxing, borrowing and uncontrolled government spending,” they said.
Guns: Wolf hasn’t focused on guns in past budget addresses.
Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell did. In Rendell’s 2007-08 budget address, he said that while reducing gun violence wasn’t a formal part of a healthcare and economic development plan he was proposing, it was necessary.
“Gun violence is not just a Pittsburgh problem, or a Philadelphia problem,” Rendell said, according to a copy of the prepared remarks. “In fact, in 2005, the rate of gun violence rose twice as fast in the rest of the state than it did in Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties.”