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Politics & Government

Gov. Wolf Stands Firm on Budget, But Says He's Keeping An 'Open Mind'

AP Photo/Chris Knight
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, walks out of his office on his was to speak to members of the media at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says even though formal budget negotiations will not begin until Monday morning, he and his staff will be busy over the holiday weekend. 

The Democratic governor rejected the budget passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate, leaving the state without a spending plan as of Wednesday. He said both sides have put down their markers.

“The job now is to bring those two points together because whether we like it or not Pennsylvanians, voted for divided government and we both have to agree in the end.” Wolf said. “They are going to have to give up some things, I know I will too, to come to a place that we can all agree will make Pennsylvania better.” 

The Republican plan calls for no new taxes, the privatization of the state’s liquor stores and a change in the way retirement funds are created for new employees. Wolf is calling for an increase in the state’s income tax, a hike and expansion of the sales tax and a new severance tax on shale gas. Much of that money would be used to send additional funds to basic education and to shift local school funding away from property taxes.

Wolf said the Republican plan is based on bad math that does not add up, while the Republicans continue to contend their budget is sound and good for the state. 

“We are consuming more public goods than, so far, we have been willing to pay for. As long as we are going to consume them we are going to have to pay for them,” Wolf said on WESA’s Essential Pittsburgh. “The arithmetic has to work out, how we actually pay for them, we can have conversations about that.”

Representatives of the four legislative caucuses will meet with staffers from the Wolf administration Monday. Wolf said several committees and working groups will be formed to deal with specific issues.

Wolf has still not officially vetoed the pension and liquor privatization bills. That is expected to happen some time next week, but Wolf believes there is room for compromise in those bills.

“We all agree that the system needs to be made better with the state stores, we all agree that we need pension reform so that the taxpayers are not saddled with costs that are prohibitively high,” said Wolf. “I think we need to do both those things in a way that’s fair in one sense to the citizens of Pennsylvania, the other to the employees of Pennsylvania.”

Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai has long been pushing for full privatization of liquor and wine sales while Wolf and other Democrats have been calling for modernization. Both sides feel their plan is not only philosophical the best plan but also the best plan for the state fiscally.

Wolf continues to call for a severance tax on shale gas extraction, the Republican leadership has remained dead set against the idea and neither side has indicated publicly that they are willing to budge.