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Politics & Government

Lawmakers Try To Pinpoint Wolf Budget's Winners And Losers

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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The Pennsylvania Capitol building on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in Harrisburg, Pa.

For weeks, state lawmakers have been asking for more details about how Gov. Tom Wolf's tax proposals will affect their constituents. They recently got an answer from the state House GOP.
The caucus has unveiled TaxpayersThatPay.com, a site estimating how each school district will be affected by higher state sales and income taxes and accompanying property tax relief proposed by Wolf.

The website is a response to SchoolsThatTeach.com, the Wolf administration's effort to break down the the per-district effect of the Wolf budget.

The governor's page emphasizes what each school district could expect in education funding and property tax relief.

The House GOP's site emphasizes each school district's estimated tax burden under Wolf's plan. It organizes districts into the very categories lawmakers have requested for the past two weeks — winners and losers.

It's not a glowing evaluation. The caucus estimates that four in five school districts would pay more in sales and personal income taxes than they would receive in property tax relief under Wolf's plan.

The governor has said his plan targets low-income, high-poverty areas with tax relief. Lawmakers in largely suburban areas looked up to find their constituents might be getting the short end of the tax shift.

"At first blush, it appears to me that all of the school districts in my legislative district are losers," said Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland).

The governor's office says the House GOP is using "fuzzy math." Spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the caucus estimates take each school district in the aggregate, instead of adjusting for different income levels. A district might come out a loser, Sheridan said, but many lower- and middle-income earners would still be winners under the Wolf budget.

"In fact, most families, including homeowners earning up to $100,000 will pay less under the governor's plan," said Sheridan.

But the governor's Budget Secretary Randy Albright said that an "equitable and responsible" tax relief plan must be more generous to poorer school districts.

"We have to target that tax relief to the communities that need that help the most," Albright said.

Such arguments aren't persuading Republican lawmakers slated to get relatively less relief under Wolf's proposal.

"I live in a very, very middle-class township," said Rep. Keith Greiner (R-Lancaster). "Under this plan, they're going to get hammered harder."