Pennsylvania Republicans are blasting Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s call for a tax hike for the wealthy, arguing he should instead focus on reopening the economy and distributing the coronavirus vaccine to state residents.
“While I respectfully disagree with many of these proposals, including raising income taxes and full legalization of marijuana, my deepest concerns are related to the actual administration of our government,” state House Speaker Bryan Cutler said in a statement Wednesday evening.
He added, “There can be no greater goal of state government at this moment than to ensure our people have access to the vaccine. If it is not our top priority, then the pandemic and all that is associated with it will continue. Ensuring vaccines are available and reaching Pennsylvanians is the most important role leaders of today have ever faced.”
The governor called for increasing the personal income tax rate from 3.07% to 4.49% in his upcoming budget proposal. Wolf’s office said Tuesday that 67% of Pennsylvania taxpayers would see tax cuts or have their taxes stay the same under his plan to cut costs for working class households while raising billions to invest in education and “workforce development.”
But that language masks what state Rep. Andrew Lewis called “the largest tax hike in PA history.” Costs would go up the top-third of taxpayers, the fracking industry and small businesses.
“No matter how he spins this, he’s proposing a $7 Billion tax hike,” Lewis wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
“I tuned in to the governor’s budget address this morning prepared to take copious notes,” he wrote in a separate post. “Turns out I didn’t need very many notes after all. THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY WILL NOT APPROVE A TAX HIKE.”
It would mark the first personal income tax hike in the state since 2003, Penn Live reported Monday. It would also seek to legalize recreational marijuana – which would also be taxable, and increase the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour.
Nearly half of the new revenue would go toward education spending.
The coronavirus pandemic also exposed glaring inequities for low-wage workers, minorities and the disabled, according to Wolf, who is calling for billions of dollars to go toward workforce development and “re-employment assistance” for workers laid off amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Another part of his 2021 plans would send $145 from the state’s Workers Compensation Security Fund directly to state businesses suffering under the coronavirus’ squeeze on the economy.
Cutler called a similar, prior effort “a failure” by “all accounts and measure.”
“The shutdown forced millions of Pennsylvanians out of work, but when they sought out unemployment compensation, money they had paid into the system themselves, the Department of Labor’s system failed,” he said.
Republican lawmakers, who control the state Legislature, are vehemently opposed to tax hikes and will likely squash Wolf’s plans. Especially amid the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating effects on the economy.
“The budget he is presenting is completely unsustainable, totally irresponsible, and absolutely crippling to the state’s economy,” Jake Corman, the Pennsylvania state Senate’s top Republican, told Trib Live, which covers Western Pennsylvania, on Wednesday. “Now is not the time to ask Pennsylvanians to send more of their hard-earned dollars to Harrisburg.”
“For those who are worried, fear not,” Rep. Lewis wrote in another Facebook post Wednesday. “Yes the governor bypassed the General Assembly last year using his emergency and veto powers, but when it comes to the budget, the roles are literally reversed. There is no document he can sign or executive order he can issue to raise taxes — all such measures must first come from the legislature. And this one is not even up for debate. It’s a hard no.”
Fox News’ Charles Creitz contributed to this report.