Budget proposal called 'realistic starting point'

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 23 minutes ago For once, Gov. Tom Wolf pitched budget ideas to the Legislature and Republicans didn't dismiss his proposal out of hand. The Democrat avoided calls to raise sales and personal income taxes,...

Budget proposal called 'realistic starting point'

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Updated 23 minutes ago

For once, Gov. Tom Wolf pitched budget ideas to the Legislature and Republicans didn't dismiss his proposal out of hand.

The Democrat avoided calls to raise sales and personal income taxes, proposals that are anathema to the most conservative Legislature in modern state history. Instead, the $32.3-billion proposal Wolf unveiled last week touched on some Republican priorities: streamlining state government, lowering business taxes and limiting corporate welfare.

“The budget has many areas where compromise can be reached,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, adding “the overall spend and the priorities for spending seem in line for compromise.”

Wolf's budget secretary said the proposal's 1.8 percent spending increase, or about $571.5 million, adheres to standards of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR — a libertarian concept that attempts to restrain the growth of government spending. The conservative Commonwealth Foundation says the TABOR limit would be 1.16 percent if the state limited spending to inflation plus population.

Reaction from Republican leadership wasn't as harsh as when Wolf proposed his first two budgets.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana County, called Wolf's latest proposal “a realistic starting point” that represents a “180-degree turn” in terms of budget priorities. He added Republicans “are heartened” by Wolf's proposed $2 billion in spending reductions and agency consolidations but said there are questions regarding $1 billion in new spending from a severance tax, closing certain tax loopholes and other revenue tweaks.

Republican Senate leaders criticized Wolf's severance tax proposal and his budget plan for not going far enough to change the two public pension systems.

Despite Wolf and Republicans starting off closer on budget spending, a wedge was driven swiftly when the Senate approved three controversial bills: limiting legal abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy; preventing automatic deductions of union dues from public employee paychecks; and threatening state grants for so-called “sanctuary” municipalities.

Wolf opposes the union dues legislation, dubbed “paycheck protection” by supporters, and he is monitoring the sanctuary legislation and federal activity on the issue, a spokesman said. He adamantly opposes the abortion bill, pledging to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

Senate Republicans attained a veto-proof majority, but the House GOP didn't. About a dozen House Democrats would need to support a veto override for the House to reach the two-thirds majority.

Madonna said a veto would provide a considerable strain to relations between Wolf and Republican legislative leadership.

More animosity can be stirred throughout legislative budget hearings, where lawmakers plan to heavily scrutinize the governor's proposal. All of this occurs with rumblings about the 2018 political campaign in the background.

“The temperature in the capitol and around the state will only rise,” Madonna said.

Kevin Zwick is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2856 or kzwick@tribweb.com.

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