Gov. Tom Wolf said he would be "willing to have conversations" about compromises on the 5 percent severance tax on natural gas he's proposed to balance the state budget.
"I'm willing to have conversations," Wold told reporters while touring Big Beaver Elementary School in Darlington on Monday. "I want a better Pennsylvania. If I'm convinced we can have a better Pennsylvania with something better than what I've proposed, then I'm all ears."
State Reps. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver, Butler) and Jim Christiana (R-Beaver, Washington) released a joint statement shortly after questioning the governor’s willingness to compromise.
“We urge the governor to join legislators in good faith negotiations so that we can reach a budget agreement that respects taxpayers and benefits all Pennsylvanians, not just a few special interests,” they wrote.
The state remains in a fiscal limbo after the Republican-controlled state House and Senate passed a budget just ahead of the June 30 deadline, which Wolf rejected.
Wolf’s support for a severance tax on natural gas as it comes out of the ground has further curved potential compromise. The tax would pay for education and lower local property taxes, he said.
Wolf said he would stand fast to his demands to fund schools with the gas tax, rather than what he calls one-time solutions built on "smoke-and-mirrors."
"We can't suspend reality -- two plus two equals four. If we want to spend it, we have got to raise it, and we've got to raise it fairly,” Wolf said, referencing Republican-backed budget proposals. “Education isn't something we can say 'Eh...I don't want to do that.'"
Wolf noted that he did move from his initial plan, which set a floor on the severance tax calculation that would have forced gas drillers to pay more in taxes than they would realize from the sale of the gas if market prices fell below a certain level.
Marshall and Christiana response stated unequivocally that "the governor’s budget plan is bad for the residents of Western Pennsylvania."
"His plan would raise more than $12 billion in new taxes on workers and families and send 32 percent of its education dollars to the Philadelphia School District, leaving the other 499 school districts across the Commonwealth to split what’s left,” they wrote.
The Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier contributed to this report.