Although Tom Wolf campaigned pledging to be a “different kind of governor”, his recent vetoes of a budget with no new taxes, a pension reform bill, and a bill ending state control of liquor sales is just more derelict “representative” government serving special interests at the expense of taxpayers, students, and the poor. His vetoes were followed up with an American Works mailer to the citizens of York County attacking Senator Scott Wagner. America Works is a PAC allied with the Association of Democratic Governors that took in $14.4 million from 5 government unions in 2014. The mailer’s content reveals Governor Wolf’s apparent comfort with distorting the facts to achieve the goals of his government union supporters and thereby his own political power.
The flyer features a regal photograph of Tom Wolf and one of an apparently dazed Senator Wagner. The flyer states: “Governor Wolf proposed a balanced budget that restores education funding, reduces property tax, and makes gas drillers pay their fair share, but Scott Wagner stood in his way…
Let’s examine these claims. Governor Wolf did indeed propose a balanced budget, but his budget contains historic spending of $29.9 billion, not including an additional “off budget” $1.75 billion of PA taxpayer monies to the school employee pension fund. He “balances” that spending with new taxes totaling more than $4.5 billion this fiscal year, ballooning to more than $8 billion the following. Balancing a budget is easy if you are willing to raise taxes to cover all your spending desires.
How about “restores education funding”? Governor Wolf’s budget pours a record 10.4 billion taxpayer dollars into a public education system that has failed its most needy students. In the 143 PA public schools that rank in the bottom 5%, routinely <40% of students achieve proficiency in math and <35% in reading on the relatively low standard set by the Pennsylvania School System of Assessment. Spending more money has not been the answer. PA public education spending/student in inflation adjusted dollars increased from $10,807 in 2000-01 to $15,341 in 2012-13. Yet during that same period testing scores have remained flat.
Real education reform does not require more but rather more effective spending. Parental choice would promote the same competitive market forces that have increased quality, lowered costs, and provided an array of options to fulfill the varied individual needs and desires in so many other areas of our lives would do the same for k-12 education.
Increasingly, educational dollars have been diverted to the Public School Employee’s Retirement system. As an example, the Philadelphia schools’ contribution to the pension increased from $42 million in 2009 to more than $175 million this year. All of our school districts have seen similar proportional increases to the pension resulting in program cuts and fewer teacher positions. And those pension costs continue to rise. If Tom Wolf was primarily concerned with better funding of education, why would he have vetoed pension reform that would have maintained accrued benefits for current state and school employees, and enrolled all new hires into 401k retirement plans – reform resulting in an estimated $18.3 billion fewer educational dollars flowing to the pension? The answer may have something to do with the $800,000 the state teachers union (PSEA) contributed to the Wolf campaign.
Let’s move on to “reduces property taxes”. To be sure, there can be no more basic right than for an individual being secure in the ownership of their home. Beginning in 2016-17, the Wolf budget would provide $3.7 billion in “property relief” but at a cost of $1 in new taxes for every 30 cents of property tax reduction. Further, primarily driven by the pension liability, school district spending is projected to grow at a 6.25% annualized rate negating the property tax relief in 3 to 4 years. Going forward, property taxes will continue to rise and those increases will be on top of Governor Wolf’s new sales and income taxes.
More fundamentally, Tom Wolf’s “property tax relief” continues the same unjust system of funding of government k thru 12 education that results in 10s of thousands of Pennsylvanians every year losing their homes to the government. True property tax reform can only be accomplished by property tax elimination. Passage of HB76 and SB76 property tax reform bills would do just that in a revenue neutral manner, and would be true service to the citizens of our commonwealth. Needless to say, property tax elimination is opposed by Governor Wolf and his government union supporters.
And finally “makes gas drillers pay their fair share”. This is classic demagoguery meant to fan the base emotions of anger and envy, and to distort the truth. Firstly, since 2011, drilling companies have paid more than $800 million in impact fees in addition to the millions of dollars for the usual corporate taxes. More importantly, more taxes on drillers ultimately means less employment in the energy industry and higher energy costs for everyone, particularly hurting those who can least afford it – the poor. Incidentally, Governor Wolf’s budget does not allocate the severance tax revenue to education but rather to other priorities including corporate welfare for alternative energy companies.
So as it turns out a “different kind of governor” is the same old demagoguery, self and special interest service, and growing government at the expense of taxpayers, students, the poor, and individual freedom.
Please contact Senator Wagner and thank him for not wavering from the recognition that PA has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. Contact Governor Wolf, particularly those of you who bought into his vision of a “different governor”, and encourage him to work with the legislature to pass a no new taxes budget that eliminates property tax, reforms public pensions, and transforms our k-12 education system into one that gives every student the educational foundation necessary to participate and thrive in our economy and our society.
Please join the campaign for liberty. Our future freedom and prosperity depend on it.